It was well past lunch time and we had not seen very much wildlife that afternoon. The spring weather was pleasant; sunny and mild, and we decided to spend the last few daylight hours searching for animal activity on the road going south from the Olifants Rest Camp.
On our previous visit to Kruger (some 4 years before) we had come across a colony of banded mongooses down this road and, even though it was highly unlikely, we hoped we would be able to relocate them. (The events of this entertaining encounter are related in the post “High alert“).
As often happens in these wildlife parks, a car coming the other way stopped and flagged us down. Total strangers often happily share news of exciting animal sightings with others, and that is what this was all about!
We were told of a leopard sighting a few kilometres further along the road. “Keep a lookout for a zebra in a tree” was the advice we were given! This was exciting news and when we arrived, we were lucky to be one of only 4 or so vehicles who had come by and stopped to see what was going on.
All we could see was that zebra in a tree, swinging in the breeze. It was a bizarre sight, as zebra obviously cannot climb and it was a long way up! The tree was remarkably close to the road – only about 4 or 5 metres from the edge. But the big cat that had carefully dragged the animal up there out of harm’s way was nowhere to be seen.
Again, our fellow nature lovers in other cars were happy to share what they knew and we were told that the leopard was lying just behind the rocks – above where the copyright sign is in the photo above. But the big animal was obviously asleep – it was a good half hour before we saw a twitch of an ear and an unconcerned face peer over the rocks.
We got rather excited at this stage and hoped she (he?) would emerge and go back up the tree. But a number of expressive yawns was all we got, then she lay back and just lazily watched the goings on with a bored expression.
Meanwhile, things had started to get a bit busy around the tree where the zebra carcass was dangling so tantalisingly. Three hyenas arrived individually – attracted by the smell of the kill. Two decided they had little hope of getting any of the spoils and went and lay in the grass some distance away.
The third one was not so easily put off. It inspected the zebra from all angles and then did something most unexpected. It went over to the hyena, as if to stir the big cat up….
Apart from watching the hyena carefully, the leopard did not react in any way. Finally the hyena gave up and lay down in the grass directly below the zebra. Perhaps it was working on the theory that if the carcase fell down, it would be in a prime position to get a share.
The minutes ticked by and a few more cars stopped to watch. (If one wants to see interesting animal behaviour, then it is necessary to be very patient and attentive – often for many hours). The minutes became hours and still nothing…..
Then…. a flurry of excitement as the leopard decided to make a move and emerge from her hiding place. But the action was short lived – within a few minutes, she lay down in the grass again, yawned numerous times and went back to sleep!
We then realised with great disappointment, that we were soon going to have to leave in order to get back to the camp before the gates were closed at 5:30pm. (In Kruger, all the camp gates are closed each night and the animals given free reign of the park until dawn).
The following day, we decided to get up early and go back to the same spot to see what had transpired. News had spread around the camp about the leopard, and there were a few other cars already there when we arrived. But the excitement levels were high – the leopard was now up the tree and had obviously been feeding on the zebra for quite a while as there was not much of the carcass left. We were lucky to get a good position to watch all the action and were awed at the size of the leopard balanced on what seemed like a rather flimsy branches!
But the most amazing thing was that after all that time, the hyena was still camped at the foot of the tree, watching every move in the branches above. Falling tidbits were pounced on as soon as they dropped. But it seemed that the hyena was going to miss out after all.
Then the leopard made her mistake. She was having trouble keeping the carcass wedged in the tree as she fed on it, because it was now relatively small and awkward to manage. Finally, it slipped and quick as lightening, the hyena jumped, caught it and clamped its jaws shut. For about 20 seconds the hyena hung on, suspended in the air, as the leopard tried unsuccessfully to drag the carcass back out of reach.
The hyena and the carcass eventually became too heavy for the leopard to hold and she let them go. The hyena was delighted and quickly took its hard won spoils some distance away before tucking in. We expected that the leopard would chase after it, but she climbed down from the tree and wandered away instead. Having eaten most of a zebra, she had obviously had her fill and chasing after leftovers was not really worth the effort!
Luckily we managed to catch this 30 seconds of thrilling drama on video as well as getting photos. It had taken us many hours of patient watching and waiting, but it was so worth it! Within about 10 minutes of the contest, the zebra, the hyena and the leopard had vanished.
All that was left was a very unremarkable tree!