a morning with a male leopard: alistair leuner
On leaving Earth Lodge early one morning, I asked my guests what they would like to look for that day. They all said that they wanted to look for leopards. So we decided to head North to where many of our most active leopards are seen.
As we were moving along on one of the roads my tracker spotted something on the track, and immediately said "leopard, male"; this was our dominant male leopard! As he was moving towards us he stopped and listened intently. We turned off the Land Rover and also listened. To our amazement there was a noise that could not be mistaken - it was the sound of hyenas fighting in the thick bush to our east. We drove straight in their direction, leaving the leopard in the road.
When we arrived at the chaos, we found at least 8 hyenas fighting with one unlucky male hyena! They attacked him as if he was an enemy, biting into his hindquarters and neck. This was a sighting never to be forgotten. At this stage we had totally forgotten about the leopard in the road, as all our concentration was on the hyenas.
Suddenly the war ended and the hyena clan left their poor victim and made off. He must have thought this was his lucky day, a day to survive, until the male leopard also arrived! The large leopard must have also thought himself lucky to find a small hyena already beaten up and unable to fight back. With tremendous speed he attacked the already injured hyena. The attack continued until something else caught his attention. It was a sound that any male leopard detests; the call of another male leopard inside his territory! He left the hyena and made his way to the area from where the other sound was coming.
We relocated him just in time to find the two enormous beasts face to face, staring each other down! They were both ready for action and growling with tremendous ferocity. Neither was backing down. They marched like two warriors side by side, sizing each other up to find any weakness. They walked down the road in front of us growling and snarling as they went. My guests were in absolute awe.
We continued behind them until the interloper decided that he was in the wrong and slunk of into the undergrowth. The more dominant male then moved off into the bush in the other direction and we followed.
Our morning was not over though!! As he moved passed a large jacket-plum tree, something caught his eye; it was a large African rock python in the tree! The leopard climbed straight up the tree and went for the python. We could not believe our luck that all this was happening right in front of us!!!
The python tried to move away but was stopped by the leopard, and a battle ensued. The leopard smacked the python on its head with great force, causing the snake to fall out of the tree. The python managed to recover and was able to somehow move away before the leopard could climb down to kill it. At this point we moved off, and another Land Rover with its guests arrived to watch the interaction between the snake and leopard. We were later told that the python managed to keep the leopard at bay for long enough for it to lose interest, and eventually it left the python in peace!
This group of sightings was definitely one I will never forget and I'm sure none my guests will forget it either! Everyone sat in the vehicle in pure silence the entire way back to lodge trying to take in what they had just seen. We were all astonished by the whole situation!