If you read my Great Migration safari TRIP REPORT you would have noted that I mentioned a properly epic sighting we enjoyed, but didn’t go into too much detail, hinting that I would make a separate blog post out of it. Well, you are at the right place, cause this post is it!
To paraphrase how I described the lead-in to this sighting:
“We had gotten word that one of the Mara Triangle’s iconic male lions, “Scar”, was lounging around close to the Serena Hotel (the only permanent lodging in the Triangle). As we move towards that position, I saw a herd of impala being very alert and alarmed. Was it because of the lions? NO!
We see two feline shapes flit cross the road in front of us…leopards! Male leopards! In a territorial dispute!”
The actual tiff doesn’t last long. We are able to grab a few frames, but with the arrival of a second Wild Eye vehicle who were directly behind us on our descent down the hill, the leopards look up at us – then cross the road again and move back up the Serena hill as if they had buried the hatched…
It would have been easy to assume at this point that the sighting was over – luckily we were interested enough in what just happened to stick around a few more minutes…here’s what went down…
The leopards lie down on the hillside and glare and growl at each other. I figure they have probably been fighting on-and-off for the better part of the morning, given the blood on the grass and the wounds on them…it’s about 09h30AM after all by now. Suddenly there is movement from the bushes on our right, where the leopards were brawling moments before: a lioness had heard the commotion, and is coming closer to investigate!
She slowly stalks across the road and up the hillside – straight towards where the leopards are lying. They do not notice her, for now!
She keeps inching closer and closer to them. The darker of the two male leopards is first on her route – and he’s lying with his back to her!
With extreme stealth she inches forward, and the leopard still doesn’t catch a whiff of her presence…
…closer and closer and closer…!
At this point, the leopard’s cat instincts kick in and he realises that all is not as it seems – he jerks around, both cats seem to jolt with a fright, and the two stare at each other for a few breathless moments (we were all holding our breath too!)…
Perhaps they know each other? He is the resident male leopard of this area (we’ve seen him on previous years’ safaris too)…
She leaves him be, moves around him, and focuses her attention on the other male, lying further up the incline…
She promptly cranks up the pace and the intruding leopard sees her coming, fleeing well before she gets within reach!
As soon as she realises that this leopard is gone and out of reach, she turns back around and heads back down.
Will she now confront the other leopard? He’s still there, keeping a close eye on her.
The lioness inches closer, unsure of how to proceed. The leopard, having been caught off guard minutes before, does not let her out of his sight.
Suddenly, as randomly as this whole sighting had been up to now, she takes off and starts chasing the male leopard!!
The lioness gains on the leopard with every stride…and we hold our breath…
A quick turn of the tail, a change of direction, and the male leopard gains some precious yards from under the huffing breath of the lioness…and finds a hole in a shrub to duck into and disappear as leopards do…
Breathing a sigh of relief, we realise that the tense situation has been resolved without further bloodshed – and the lioness has even scattered the leopards and possibly ended their blood feud for the day. She walks down the hill, plonks down on a termite mound, and proceeds to roar out her victory to the valley below.
We just sat there for a few minutes, taking in and reflecting on what we saw.
Perhaps she was nursing cubs in the thicket where she emerged from? She was still a fair distance away from where Scar and the rest of the pride were camped out. Upon closer inspection of the photos it does look like she might have had some swollen teats (certainly not at the stage where she would be intensely nursing for most of the day, so perhaps the cubs were a bit bigger?)
Perhaps the noise of the brawling leopards just alerted her to possible danger and intrusion of competing predators in her space and she wanted to get rid of them?
Whatever her reason was, we knew we had witnessed something special – a rare sighting indeed. I made sure that all the guests who were with us (2 of the Wild Eye vehicles were together for this brief sighting) understood how rare and special this was. In my 30 odd years of regular safari all over Southern African (and for the last 4 years also East Africa), this was a first for me.
The setting against the hillside was perhaps not ideal for award-winning photography, but what it did provide was a front-row seat to the action, a vantage point and angle of view from which we could see the whole episode play out in all its glory.
You see, it’s not always about getting the best photos. In cases like this, it really is about having a rare quality sighting and being able to see the whole tale unfold. So often we have to guess and assume what happens when sightings like this happen in dense bush or too far away from us.
From here we could still go on and enjoy all that the Mara Triangle had on offer – it was the Great Migration season after all!
I hope you enjoyed this tale! Remember, you have to be out there as much as possible to improve your chances of seeing things like this play out. Get out there…