Leopard conflict

Sabi Sand | October 2017

On a recent afternoon game drive we suddenly stumbled upon a male leopard with a seductive female that seemed keen on mating with him. Trying everything she could to entice him to mate, it almost seemed as if there was something in the air drawing this male’s attention so far away that the female almost seemed non-existent to him. With the most “in your face” advertisement it seemed as if he was not at all interested in her, but instead the lingering scent… While following the curious scent, female in tow, we remembered that another female leopard (Hlabankunzi female) and her cub had made a bushbuck kill about half a mile away. It must be this scent that he was interested in (the food, not the female). Anticipating this, we decided to go ahead of the pair towards the two leopards feeding on the carcass. We noticed the courting female was marking her territory with some spray urination and some ground scraping; it almost seemed like a direct challenge towards the Hlabankunzi female.

Amid all the confusion and sudden interactions, the male leopard stole the kill for himself from the Hlabankunzi female and her cub (which is his offspring).

The female that decided to mark her territory very close to the Hlabankunzi female had moved off and was lying in the grass watching the commotion. Out of a little shrub popped the head of the Hlabankunzi female who had just had her kill stolen by the male. She walked over to where the other female had marked her territory and marked directly over it. Now it seemed as if things were getting serious. Never having seen this sort of conflict I didn’t understand how this would turn out. Drooling, both females started scraping the ground and hissing at one another.

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Squaring off, they tensely both started walking parallel to each other in a direction away from the male and the kill. The gap between them was getting smaller and smaller, almost as if they were trying to size each other up from a sideways perspective. Closing in, suddenly the slow walk turns into a jog and in split seconds both female leopards are in the air, claws latched onto one another and making the most horrific noises you could imagine! I never thought that these animals could punish each other like that!

It was merely seconds and both were back on their feet and it seemed as if the hierarchy had been established very quickly. One leopard sitting and one standing, this must be the outcome. When an animal is submissive they will lower themselves from their opponent and this seemed to diffuse the situation.

Both females walked off in opposite directions. There was still a dust lingering in the air and it seemed as if everything was back to normal. It was scary to think such conflict is sorted out in seconds and everyone continues their lives with their new scars and memories.

This sort of conflict doesn’t occur often at all. Both animals are still alive and doing well, the territory sizes and boundaries have just been adjusted.