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Cameron Appel

NAME: Cameron Appel

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Leopard: the team hunter

This diary entry took place at Londolozi

Leopards surprise you every day.

It’s not only their ‘freakish good-looks’ that make them interesting, but their adaptable and often unusual behavior we so often miss when looking through a camera lens.

I’ve had a few unusual leopard experiences.  From almost having my chin clawed, to having one’s tail glance my leg and hand… an occurrence possible only because game rangers choose to drive without doors on their vehicles.

The following are some experiences I like to share of Leopards Behaving Strangely…

After 3 days of vigorous mating, the Mxabene Female and the Camp Pan Male decided they were hungry early on one beautiful spring morning. I don’t blame them.  3 days of nothing but cuddling, mounting, tail-curling, low-growling and slapping can work up an appetite in anyone! The two set off in search of prey, strangely however, together.  They kind of looked like lions, walking a few meters apart, senses triggering every few steps, but completely aware of each other and where they were heading.

They came upon a terminalia ticket, stopped, and stared through the grass resembling something like pointer dogs on a duck hunt. Ears flat and tails twitching, the leopards - and the trackers, obviously – had noticed a grey duiker (not the one who hunts Egyptian Geese, his mate… thankfully for the leopards) browsing unawares in the grass.

Both leopards were still.  Being mostly solitary animals and hunters, we wondered which leopard would enter the characteristic stalk mode, and which one would claim the duiker as its prey.  What happened next truly astounded me. Other guides and naturalists may have witness this before, however, this was the first I had ever seen it, and I don’t remember reading about it in any reference books either.

The male leopard crouched down into the grass, with his forehead and eyes just ever so slightly above the blades… fairly normal behavior for a hunting leopard.  However, the female turned on her belly, and snuck off through the ticket in the other direction… strange.

We assumed that she had had enough of the Camp Pan Male - the then Singita regular, he only visited Londolozi every couple of days… and we all know how Singita leopards behave when visiting one of our Londolozi females - and took this opportunity as a means of escaping the Camp Pan Male's further advances.

It wasn’t a moment later, when a tracker noticed the Mxabene female moving up along the crest to our right, if you can imagine it, further away but in the direction of the duiker.  An ambush, perhaps!?

The male leopard waited.

Soon, we noticed the female leopard's characteristic eyes above the grass, wind in her face, on the opposite side of the duiker to where the male leopard was currently lying.

“Do leopards ambush?” I asked Mathebula.

“They do now, China!” He replied.

The duiker was now sandwiched, the two leopards on either side, and with a gentle gust of wind swirling through the cluster of leaves, the male leopard began to move. Raising himself ever so slightly, he started forward! Slowly he placed his back paw in behind his front paw, so as to limit the chance of alerting the duiker to a snapping twig or branch.

He began to move with a bit more haste.  Focused on the prey… he was within meters of the duiker. Quickly, the duiker shot the male leopard a lightning glance. It took off, bolting in the direction of the female leopard. The male charged towards them and with a burst of rosettes, the female had launched herself with amazing velocity at the duiker, catching it by the rump and quickly sinking her teeth into the back of its neck.

As expected, the male leopard quickly seized control of the situation. He sped towards the two who were locked in a dying struggle, and grabbed the duiker from the jaws of the female leopard.

Within seconds, he was up a marula tree, breathing heavily over the now dead and limb antelope.

Strange events can only get stranger, it would seem...

We were to assume, that this is common behavior for leopards. I’ve witnessed male leopards stealing kills from females many times before.  But to our surprise, who was feeding on the duiker later that evening?

The Mxabene Female.

It must be love!



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