Early one morning, the Airstrip Male leopard was found doing his territorial rounds near MalaMala main camp. What began as a familiar sighting of this dominant male moving around his territory, quickly turned rather exciting. The Airstrip male, who was busy patrolling, all of a sudden came to an abrupt halt. His ears pricked and he started staring intently into a nearby thicket – this leopard was on full alert. Something in the magic guarri thicket had his attention and he was going to investigate. The Airstrip male began moving towards the bushes, initially as a fast walk which quickly turned into a jog – it was at this moment when some movement was seen coming from inside the vegetation. It was Kikilezi and her two cubs. This male shares his territory with a number of females, the Kikilezi female in particular, has been a celebrity with her two beautiful cubs for the last year now.
The newly found leopardess and her two cubs were not alone in the bushes, as it was discovered that they had been feeding on a recently captured and treed impala ram not more than a few hours old. The quarry was abandoned by the Kikilezi female almost immediately when she spotted the approaching Airstrip male. She hastily descended the tree and joined her cubs who were already evacuating the area. Although the Airstrip Male is the father of the two young females, and they were in no immediate danger, he could possibly become aggressive towards them had any of them attempted to prevent him gaining access to the carcass.
The cubs continued to move further away from their father, one of which headed for the shady reprieve offered on a sand bank in a nearby dry riverbed. Shortly after this cub ventured out of sight, an unmistakable shriek was heard from where she was walking towards. Immediately the rangers recognised the bloodcurdling squeals as a small mongoose of sorts. Upon further investigation, this young leopard cub was seen in close proximity to a banded mongoose – who was trying to fend off the young, curious leopard cub. For several minutes the cub circled the distressed mongoose, every so often giving a slight swat with her large powerful paws. Leopard cubs will begin their hunting career with smaller animals, all the while forming the foundations for later on in life – it is all part of the learning process.
Eventually this playful cub grew tired of the ‘game’ and went in for the killing bite. Within seconds the mongoose was securely in her jaw, still fighting and waiting for an opportunity to maneuver a bit and maul the young leopard’s face with its large claws and sharp teeth. The opportunity never came though, and after a secure grip had already been established around the mongooses neck, the animals strength slowly began to slip away. Eventually the mongooses body was limp, and this freshly made kill was taken to a thicket of young jackalberries to ‘mock kill’ the mongoose over and over again as all young cats do before feeding on their triumphant hunt.
This, what originally started as fairly normal sighting did not stop there, as no sooner had the mongoose kill been made, a large troop of baboons arrived on the scene. The alpha male of the troop saw the Airstrip male feeding in the less-than-conspicuous acacia tree and started barking furiously, attracting the attention of the rest of the troop. The Kikilezi female knew the strength and canines of the larger baboons, as well as their numbers would mean potential danger to her cubs, so she quietly disappeared into the thickets, the cub abandoning the kill immediately and followed its mother to safety.
The Kikilezi female and cubs were not the only ones to seek refuge, after the arrival of these vociferous primates. The Airstrip male also took his leave, however he was not about to lose his easily gained meal. He was watched as he rapidly descended the tree with his stolen kill and dragged the carcass to safety several hundred meters away and stashed it away deep within a thick spikethorn thicket. Quite an amazing morning, it just goes to show, however regular a sighting may appear, one never knows what is going to happen next. This is the joy of the bushveld.
Text and pictures: James Moodie