impala! alive and kicking high up in a tree
- alistair leuner

leopard in a tree

Leaving Selati Camp early one winter's morning we decided to head east to follow up on some lion that had been roaring the entire night. About 10 minutes away from the lodge the mist began to roll in which made visibility quite bad, so I decided to head towards some open areas where it might be a bit better.

As I reached the open area my tracker, Mike, put up his hand in order for me to stop. I stopped and we both climbed out to investigate what he had seen. Mike had found male leopard tracks which were extremely fresh, so we followed.

We managed to track the spoor until it went into a drainage line, so we drove around it and to our surprise there was our dominant male leopard sitting on the other side of the drainage line.

We watched and took photos as he posed and showed off.

He then began to move down the road and we followed. He suddenly ran off at tremendous speed and we tried to follow, but lost him. I rounded the next corner and to my amazement there in the road was another leopard sitting exactly where we had just seen the first one. I couldn't understand what was happening. We all thought we were dreaming.

This was definitely not the dominant male, he was way too small. It was the young male we sometimes see around the area. No sooner had I lifted my camera to get a photo of this male, when we heard a scuffle in the bush right next to us. We quickly drove around the bush and found the dominant male dragging a large male impala into the tree - but what was so incredible was that the male impala was not even nearly dead. He was still very much alive as he was being hoisted up high into the tree top at an amazing rate of knots.

We all sat in absolute amazement as this unbelievable act continued in front of us. Not only were we lucky enough to see this shy and elusive cat, but we had just seen two in the same sighting, as well as now watching one of them killing an impala, which is also really uncommon. So we had two leopards in the same sighting with a (happening) kill, but the prey was now up high in a tree, still alive with the one leopard trying to deliver the killing blow. The impala fought for least 5 minutes in the branches but finally gave up the fight and breathed his last breath. It is almost impossible to believe how strong a leopard must be to first of all drag an impala male, which weighs between 40-60 kg in your mouth up a tree that is completely vertical; but to do that with the impala still kicking and moving is incredible.

The dominant male managed to get his breath back after a while as he sat with his prize, while the younger male, possibly his son, sat at the base of the tree as if waiting to get the go head to join - which of course never happened.

What I think had happened in this act was that both leopards were going for the same impala and the dominant male managed to grab him first, but then he heard the other cat, and, thinking it might be another predator, possibly a lion or hyena, he must have decided he should just drag it straight up the tree without trying to kill it on the ground.

This once again was one the most incredible sightings that I have been privileged to see at Sabi Sabi. Both myself and Mike as well as all of my guests were in absolute awe of what had just unfolded in front of us. I will never forget that morning as long as I live and I will never forget the strength and power that the leopard showed.

In the end we also managed to find the lions that were roaring all night. So it turned out to be one amazing safari that unfolded that very cold and misty morning in the Sabi Sabi bushveld.

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