The war for territory of two leopards took place fiercely, opening a new sunny day.


The sun rises over Londolozi, its warmth creeping over the chilly landscape. Spring is rapidly giving way to summer and the cool air forms a blanket of mist, obscuring sight and muffling sound. All is quiet this morning.

Through the stillness pads a leopard. Through dew-dappled grass he treads, his body lithe, muscles rippling beneath a gleaming, golden coat while gleaming, golden eyes swing back and forth, alert for any potential prey, or danger. He flows through the savannah like a ship through still waters; his head low and barely visible, followed by the rhythmic rise and fall of shoulder blades, then a long, sinewy torso and finally a gently writhing serpentine tale.

He’s nervous, he’s in enemy territory, unchartered waters. He shouldn’t be here. But that’s all part of establishing oneself in this harsh world. To push into the unknown and fight. Against all odds, fight. And once the fighting is done, then he will have to protect what he has paid for in blood with everything he has. But that is not on his mind, it cannot be, the future holds no value to these animals, only the present.

And yet, despite his heightened awareness, he is oblivious to the danger that lurks behind. The Senegal Bush Male has caught the scent of the invader. Wide nostrils flare as his massive skull swings back and forth, head low to the ground, catching the brief wisps of scent that float up from the wet grass. His path seems erratic but crisscrosses the path of the intruder that he knows is close by. He too must be cautious; he must try and see before being seen as he wants to get the measure of his opponent, to gain the best possible position, before he can strike.

And then he catches sight of the invader, his body tensing as it drops to the ground, only his head peering above the grass line, his pale eyes staring, gauging the status of the unwary male ahead. Secure that he is still undetected, he slips forward, every movement calculated, making not a whisper as he glides forward toward the stranger. Up ahead, a termite mound, the perfect cover. As the enemy rounds the mound, the territorial male trots forward.

But no, not yet. Something causes him to pause, and in that hesitation, the moment is lost. He lowers himself back to the ground and waits for the gap to open again before resuming his stalk. And still, somehow, the Eyrefield Male is still not aware of the threat that looms not fifty metres behind him. The gap closes once more as the Senegal Bush Male closes in on his quarry. He seems surer of his movements now. As observers, our hearts have been in our throats for the last half hour, the tension palpable, deep and intense, what are we about to witness? It is evident now that the crux of it all is nigh. We give the animals space so as to give the Eyrefield Male every chance to hear the danger that is quite literally on his tail.


And then it happens! The chaser’s body tenses briefly, bundling up and gathering himself before launching forward at a seemingly impossible speed, covering something like 15 feet in his first stride! The chasee hears the commotion but barely has a chance to pivot before 85-odd kilograms (about 185 pounds) of ferocity slams into his side. The next 15 seconds are chaos, the two animals moving far too fast to follow. Our vehicles careen through the grassland to catch up to the pair! We arrive just in time to see the final blows being flung, bloody maws snarling exposing gore-covered teeth. The two, on their hind legs, rain blows down on each other.

The Senegal Bush Male then has the invader pinned beneath him and tracker Rob Hlatshwayo, whispers quietly, “He’s paralysed him.” My heart sinks, and my whole body goes cold at the idea of what we’ve just witnessed. Paralysing an opponent by biting the spine is not an uncommon method of winning a fight. But a second later, the Eyrefield Male had extricated himself and was on his feet, the two males hissing and spitting at one another.

And then, fortunately, or unfortunately (I still can’t decide which), two hyenas barrelled into the fray, scattering the two combatants. The Senegal Bush Male shot up a Marula tree while the Eyrefield Male disappeared into the thickets ahead, not to be seen again to this day.

The hyenas realising there was nothing of interest for them on the scene moved off and the Senegal Bush Male eventually descended the tree and carried on the pursuit, albeit somewhat more tentatively. He sported a serious gash to the nose, just another scar to add to the vast collection, but very little other damage.

And so, all ended well for both males. Rather better for the Senegal Bush Male as the Eyrefield Male is still somewhat nomadic and, in this instance, had failed to gain so much as a foothold in this area. It will be interesting to see where this male eventually sets up his territory and I am definitely excited to see where that may be. This is probably one of the wildest sightings I’ve had out here and will stick with me forever


Leave a Comment