sabi sabi ranger stories

two leopards in a tree

The encounter described below occurred at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa on June 17, 2008.  Our Ranger and driver was Marlize and our Tracker was Doc, a twenty-year veteran at Sabi Sabi.  It was winter in South Africa and the temperature on this clear day was about 19ºC (76ºF).

The afternoon safari drive started out fairly uneventfully.  We saw several kudus and some impala.  Then, Doc spotted a large male leopard, which we followed in the Land Rover down to a water hole where he lay down for a while, then took a drink. 

We continued to follow and sometimes drove quite close to the male leopard (about 15 feet away) as he walked slowly down a road, paying little attention to us.  During this time he let out several ferocious roars.

After awhile, we saw several warthogs in a field on our right and the male leopard, which was now on our left, began to crouch and move forward quietly and quickly.  Soon he disappeared into the bush on our right, and we thought we had lost him — but with the hope that if he attacked the warthogs, we might see some of it.

It was getting dark and Doc turned on his spotlight.  Soon he spotted an impala in the grass on a hill to our left, and an instant later we saw another leopard leap out of the nearby grass and onto the impala’s back.  The impala started to run and we followed, hoping to see more.

When the Land Rover came upon the leopard, we noted that it was a female and that she was considerably smaller than the male we had followed previously.  The female leopard had her jaws around the impala’s throat and her front paws up around the impala’s neck and shoulders.  The impala stood in this position for more than five minutes until it finally fell over.  At that point the female leopard dragged the impala about 10 yards and began to attempt to eat it.  The female leopard and the impala were now on our right.

Suddenly, the large male leopard appeared on our left.  He moved swiftly past our Land Rover (within about 6 feet) toward the female leopard and her kill.  Upon seeing the large male approaching, the female leopard ran up a nearby tree and the male leopard claimed the prey.

We stayed to watch the male leopard, now on our right, begin to devour the prey.  It was a gruesome sight, and we heard the sounds of crushing bones and tearing flesh.

After about 10 minutes of watching the male leopard eat, the female leopard descended from the tree and approached the male and the kill cautiously.  Suddenly, the female turned and ran back up the tree.  This alerted the feeding male, who picked up the impala carcass (which probably weighed close to his own weight) and raced for the same tree.  As the male leopard started up the tree with the impala in his jaws, a large hyena rushed past us and toward him.  The male leopard got up the tree just before the hyena, which leaped mightily, could grab hold of the dead impala’s leg.

Our ranger, Marlize, was ecstatic about what we had witnessed — and for good reason.  It would be hard to surpass this close-up example of life and death in the African bush.  We discussed our encounter at length over drinks and at dinner.

Kenneth Suelthaus - St. Louis, Missouri, USA

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