|The young leopard looks up to the branches where his kudu is safely cached|
|The 6 meter tree is easily scaled by the agile cat|
|Claw marks in the bark show his multiple ascents|
|Perched high above loitering hyenas, the prey is safe for now...|
Seemingly discontented with the orientation of his breakfast, the young male skillfully maneuvered the carcass to a more manageable position and settled down to feed. The lack of meat left on the kudu though forced him to continually adjust both its, and his, position and his inexperience began to tell. At approximately 3 years old, he has only been independent for perhaps 18 months and yet to fully master the art of carcass manipulation from above. His repeated movements heralded the sound of a potential meal for others and within minutes, 2 hyenas emerged from the surrounding bush in the hopes of profiting from his mistakes.
|Inexperience caused the young male to constantly reposition himself an the food|
|Watching the hyenas gather as they hope for an error|
We watched with bated breath as his constant repositioning inched the remainder of the kudu’s weight further out of equilibrium. We silently pleaded with him to re-centre the load to avoid losing the rest of his meal, whilst the circling hyenas’ salivated at the prospect of his error. Usually a picture of arboreal poise and precision, the leopard suddenly lost his grip and in an uncharacteristic moment of clumsiness, lost his footing too. After face-planting unceremoniously into the lowest branch, both leopard and the kudu plummeted to the ground in a tangle of legs and spots, scattering the baying hyenas! In typical cat fashion however, the leopard was up and ready for action seconds after hitting the floor. As the shocked hyenas gathered their senses and closed in on his prize, the leopard regained his dignity and advantage and shot back up the tree with the kudu tightly clamped within his jaws. The frustrated hyenas were left hopping angrily at the bas of the tree, distraught that their patience had gone unrewarded.
|A unceremonious face plant as the leopard loses his grip|
|Bark flies as the leopard searches for traction with his claws and kudu drops from his grip|
Relieved (and no doubt embarrassed by his ungraceful dismount), the young male made sure that he would not make the same mistake twice and took the kudu higher into the tree, ensuring that the gangly limbs were well secured this time. Once satisfied, he flashed a final look of triumph at the disconsolate hyenas and a glance to the skies in case his faux pas had been noticed by any aerial marauders, before settling down to eat in relative peace.
|Safe again after rescuing his meal from the jaws of the hyenas|
|The leopard repositions the kudu to avoid further mishap|
|A quick check to see if the vultires have also been alerted|
The events of the morning were a wonderful insight into the wealth of emotions that one might encounter on a safari. We were struck with wonder and awe at the grace of the leopard’s original ascent, swiftly followed by the primeval delight in watching a predator devour his victim; the tension of waiting for the inevitable as the kudu slipped from his grasp, and then the comedic aspect of the feline acrobat’s literal fall from grace; finishing up with relief that he was able to redeem himself, although even this was accompanied by a slight pang of disappointment for the loitering hyenas.
During my tree climbing exploits as a child, it pains me to admit that I have chalked up many an ungraceful dismount that ultimately ended up with me on my backside. But as in all walks of life, we learn from our mistakes. We learn which trees have thorns, which branches can hold our weight, and at what age we should perhaps stop our youthful fearlessness! The same is true of the leopard. Although possibly the most beautiful animal to grace the canopy, even the great leopard is not immune to making mistakes. Still young, these misjudgments are essential in honing his skills for the future that will one day see him as a dominant male in charge of his own territory, and a true master of the treetops.
|The proud male surveys his surroundings, content that the kudu is well secured this time|