Text: Murray Forbes | Photographs: Dave Landey
The Treehouse male had not been seen for a few days, so when tracks of a male leopard were seen on Skukuza road close to the northern break of West street – Kikilezihash was the place to look next. Truth be told, the Treehouse male was walking north on the road, close to Maxim’s lookout checking in on his territory. A very similar route to the once dom-inant, Princess Alice Pans male.
If he were to continue on this route, he would walk up the western bank of the Sand River, weaving from the road close to the waters edge and then back to the path of least resistance. He did.
What the Treehouse male was unaware of at this stage, was that he was not the only big cat in the area on this overcast winters morning. The Marthly pride of lions were laying beneath a large brown ivory tree, 300 meters directly south of Main Camp, sound asleep. It was unbeknownst to him that he was beelining straight for seven lions.
The Treehouse male continued north up the road, past the northern track of the old airstrip, two football fields away from the lions and closing. Not long after this, his behaviour changed dramatically – he had picked up a scent. Assumedly of the Marthly pride, however the Treehouse male continued northward – this time in a much more cautious manner. He started showing the classic signs of a predator in close proximity to a threat/competition by salivating and noticeably becoming more vigilant. What happened next was rather unexpected though – he roared.
Walking in a zig-zag fashion, stopping often to smell and look around, the Treehouse male continued to close the gap between himself and the Marthly pride. This gap was in fact being closed from both ends, as the roar had awoken the lions from their early morning slumber and they were headed towards the leopards position.
The Treehouse male roared yet again, salivating more and scanning the area frequently. As he came around the next magic guarri thicket, he spotted them. He had clearly been oblivious to the presence of the lions, who at this stage were hurtling towards him. He froze for a second, then crouched and made a bolt for the largest, safest tree – a lofty Jackalberry, growing out of a bank on the northern parts of Kikilezihash.
In split seconds he was half way up the tree, the lions slowed their run to a jog, and stopped at the highest vantage point they could in order to keep their eye on the leopard they had successfully treed. The members of the Marthly pride eventually lost interest in this arboreal cat and resumed their siesta close to the base of the Jackalberry.
Once all the dust settled and the commotion had died down, the reason for the Treehouse male’s seemingly uncharacteristic behaviour in the presence of lions was explained. He had in fact not picked up the scent of the Marthly pride, he had smelt that of the Airstrip male. This leopard had obviously heard the challenging roars and had returned to the area to investigate. His path into the area was along the base of the ridge line, the very same one which the Marthly pride had chosen to catnap on while keeping a watchful eye on the Treehouse male.
Using their recently gained knowledge on ambushing leopards, the lions waited for a while before running in on the Airstrip male leopard. Once he was closer, the lions took off in his direction, causing him to flee for safety. The Airstrip male chose a sizeable Jackalberry tree, growing out of a bank on the northern parts of Kikilezihash. Out of danger from the lions, the Airstrip male steadied himself in the tree and immediately realised he was not alone. He had chosen the self same tree which the Treehouse male had scaled, not 15 minutes prior.
There were now two male leopards in one tree, which they did not think was big enough to accommodate the other. Between hissing at one another, they were also displaying their displeasure of this situation to the seven lions below. Soon enough, the lions lost interest yet again and moved off in search of a comfortable spot. The Airstrip male jumped at this opportunity and rapidly descended the tree and hightailed it towards and across the Sand River.
The Treehouse male was not as daring as the Airstip male, and remained in this newly found safe haven for quite some time. It was only once the Marthly pride moved towards the river in search of a drink that this leopard made his move, and shakily continued his journey around his territory.