Battle of the cats (MalaMala’s sighting of the season)

The Emsagwen and Bicycle Crossing male leopards by Andrew Batchelor

A simple sighting of a hyena kicked off one of the most intense sightings of the year.

The hyena was trailing the Bicycle Crossing male. The leopard was moving north along Piccadilly Triangle, and roaring and scent marking as he went. As this notoriously large male reached Mlowathi Koppies, the Emsagwen male leopard emerged from the night. This younger male was walking the exact same path, some fifty meters behind the Bicycle Crossing male – salivating and growling.

Both leopards headed slowly into the koppies. Another ranger arriving at the sighting, discovered the Manyelethi male leopard sitting at Mlowathi Crossing – looking on as the other two passed right by him.

With three big male leopards in the area, the scene was set for fireworks.

Deciding that the two younger males were more than he could handle, the Manyelethi male slunk off up the Mlowathi River, roaring his disgust at having his territory invaded. In the meantime the other two leopards had moved deep into Mlowathi Koppies, and we had to loop around the rocky outcrop in order to relocate them. En route we “bumped into” a fresh impala kill hanging in a tree, which was being closely guarded by the Ostrich Koppies female.

The Bicycle Crossing male appeared at the base of the tree (which had momentarily been vacated by the female), climbed up and immediately began feeding on the carcass.

In the interim the Emsagwen male had moved north of the tree with the kill in it, and was lying down growling and salivating profusely. The Bicycle Crossing male ate sparingly before descending the tree to take up guard ten paces from the Emsagwen male.

The Ostrich Koppies female (having come to the conclusion that these two males needed some space) wisely abandoned her kill and disappeared into the darkness – moving north away from the battle zone.

The two males then squared up and faced each other – a lot of growling, snarling and hissing followed, which was interspersed with the pair scent marking all over the rocks and bushes. They did some parallel walking and then lay in the grass, still trading growls with one another.

The sighting came to an end when dinner called.

Following up on last night’s sighting, we found the two males still locked in their territorial battle. It looked as though both of them had fed off the carcass, but their main focus was still on the battle at hand.

They were up early in the morning to carry on with their parallel walking – while still continuously growling, snarling and spitting at each other at every opportunity.

They both began to jog, slowed down, then sped up again. With neither cat giving an inch, they made a complete circle back to the area of the carcass and both lay down in the shade – still growling.

About 30 minute – and much growling and scent marking – later, they got up again and parallel walked some more, slowly at first with much stopping to rest in the shade. At this point the Emsagwen male was on the road and the Bicycle Crossing male on the ridge above him.

Both leopards started jogging, which quickly turned into an all out sprint. They angled toward each other – and with a mighty leap of 160 kilograms of pure muscle – made contact. The cats crashed into each other and immediately went for the head and neck area. Teeth bared and claws outstretched, they came to the ground in a death lock – each trapped in the grasp of the other.

The Emsagwen and Bicycle Crossing male leopards by Andrew Batchelor

After several seconds the lock was broken and they pulled apart. The Bicycle Crossing male twisted onto his feet first, and turned and pushed off in one movement in order to catch the Emsagwen male off guard.

But his deft opponent saw him coming, and leapt backwards to avoid the head-on assault. The Bicycle Crossing male aimed straight for the throat – canines already glistening with blood -but the Emsagwen male sprang backwards and managed to raise a paw up in time to meet the face of his adversary.

Both leopards tumbled over, but the Emsagwen male – having twisted out of the grip of the Bicycle Crossing male – landed on top and set about slicing open the neck and cheek of the Bicycle Crossing male. Rising up on his hind legs, the Bicycle Crossing male retaliated by raking the face of the Emsagwen male.

Three hyenas in the area came running in as soon as the two cats started fighting. Both leopards were preoccupied by the task at hand, and completely ignored them. This didn’t deter the spectators, who sat in their ring side seats egging on the fighters with their sickly laughs.

The Emsagwen and Bicycle Crossing male leopards by Andrew Batchelor

When either leopard was thrown to the ground, the hyenas would run in, nipping at the downed gladiator and forcing him up and back into the fight. Baying for blood, the scavengers watched as the two leopards thrashed about with swinging limbs, snarling at each other, blood pouring from gashes and dripping from bared teeth.

The Bicycle Crossing male (caught on the ground) pulled back, and the two males then circled each other – snarling and hissing insults across the arena. The Emsagwen male then launched his counter attack, smashing head first into the Bicycle Crossing male.

Catching the Emsagwen male mid-air, the Bicycle Crossing male bit deep into the neck of the younger male, and hung on for life. Having thrown his opponent off balance, the Emsagwen male was able to negotiate an equally secure grip on the Bicycle Crossing male’s neck.

Both leopards then fell to the ground with their teeth still sunk into the opposition’s neck, and their claws furiously raking the head and flanks of the other.

The Emsagwen and Bicycle Crossing male leopards by Andrew Batchelor

Neither would give any ground, and neither had any intent on loosening their grip for power.

The leopards untangled themselves from their ball of fury long enough to stare at each other. Snarling they both took off – once again walking parallel to one another.

The battle was over, but who had won?

The war hadn’t finished yet, and the two predators lay down ten paces apart, still snarling and growling. Both had blood pouring out of various wounds, and as they lay down to rest, they cleaned themselves – still keeping a watchful eye on one another. The hyenas, not having had the opportunity to take advantage of the fight, left the area.

When we finally left the leopards they were about ten paces apart and still growling, with neither one showing any sign of surrendering.

When we returned in the afternoon only the Emsagwen male was still in the area of the carcass, although the following morning only the Bicycle Crossing male was there.

Who had won the fight? Only time will tell.

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