Being a mother comes with a huge amount of responsibility, especially in the African bush where a leopardess`s solitary existence puts huge pressure not only on her own life but also that of her offspring. There comes a time when even being at the top of the food chain, a decision has to be made – Fight or Flight.
It was a balmy evening in the northern sector of the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve when I heard the call coming in over the radio that a leopard had been found. Not only one leopard, but a female leopard known as Warthog Wallow and her gorgeous male cub. It was my guests last night in Africa before returning to Australia and despite all the amazing sightings that we had seen, I thought a leopardess and her cub would be a fitting end. I had no idea however that it would be this good!
“Terry-make your approach”, even the words from my fellow ranger, Jabu, caused my excitement to spike. Even though we get to see amazing sightings on a daily basis, no day is ever the same and the privilege of not only seeing a leopard but also a leopard cub – I could not contain my excitement.
When we approached they were hiding in very long grass with limited visual but my tracker, Meshack, got us to the best seat in the house, a mere three meters from the pair. We were so fortunate as Warthog Wallow had recently killed a baby kudu and her cub was feasting on their bounty while his vigilant mother kept watch.
With the sunlight beginning to fade and a slight chill in the air it was the ideal time for the thieves of the night to start their patrols. A hyena had picked up on the scent of the kudu carcass and was starting to circle around the area. The cub frantically eating, very aware of the imminent danger and threat a hyena poses to a leopard and their kill. The hyena’s sense of smell had led it directly to the carcass and with arrogance, charged in. The cub had no choice but to run, but his mother had to make a call, is it worth holding her ground to defend what’s rightfully hers? It’s a fight it would be!
She lay behind the carcass waiting for the hyena who was charging in – it would be the powerful claws of the leopardess versus the bone crunching jaws of the thief. The hyena jumped onto the leopardess that lay on her back, characteristically using her claws on her back legs to rip open the stomach of her attacker. While her cub watched this from a fallen tree, Warthog Wallow realised that she was responsible for her cub’s future and any injury could not only be fatal for her but also for him. She leapt up and ran deciding to take the higher ground with her cub.
As if to tease the leopards, the hyena decided to pull the entire carcass with its vice like jaws, towards the location of the watching leopards as if to torture them. After watching this for a few moments, the cub, with his growing confidence/stupidity thought he would go down and try and retrieve the kill but was swiftly despatched by the gluttonous thief. They had now realised that this time it would be better to give up and live to fight another day.
These types of incidents are not rare but to witness them is something special. We at Sabi Sabi are privileged to get to know these amazing creatures and their struggle to survive in some of the harshest of environments.