A Little Leopard Learns a Big Lesson

A female leopard that we see quite often killed an impala close to Savuti camp.  After a couple of hours of feeding, she moved off for a while, only to return with her subadult female cub in tow.  The youngster is close to two years old (and not really a cub any longer), and partially independent but the mother had chosen to share her catch.  Both cats fed on the ground, but in the early evening, the young leopard began trying to drag the kill, which was a young male impala, toward a tree some distance away.

The impala carcass had been opened up in the middle, and consisted of two heavy halves, and she had a difficult time pulling it through the grass.  When she finally reached the tree, she managed to pick part of the carcass off of the ground but then it pulled her down again.  She rested for a while, then tried again.  This time she put all her effort into an explosive scrambling, leap up the tree trunk.  This took her to a fork in the tree, and she just kept going.  The carcass now slipped down and ended up dangling down the side of the tree, with its entire weight hanging off the little leopards jaws.  She did not give up though, and kept her grip, even though she was reduced to inching upwards on the tree for a long time.  To my total surprise she eventually managed to drag the carcass onto a level part of the branch, and wedged it fast in a fork.  She fed on it all through the night and for the next two days both leopards remained at the site.

Although the young leopard came down the tree several times during that period, she only once allowed the mother up to feed on the carcass, and that was not for very long.  As the amount of meat got less, the young cat became more possessive over the kill that had been given to her.  At one point she even scuffled with her mother and succeeded in driving her off the food.

It was clear to us that the mother leopard was allowing the youngsters natural instincts for survival as a solitary animal to have their expression here.  Even though she would have been able to aggressively dominate her daughter, after showing some mild aggression she backed off, and let the youngster feed.  The fascinating interaction came to an end when both cats left together.  The next day we found them again, kilometers away from one another, being solitary leopards once again.

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I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page

  • Penny Ollard

    What wonderful lesson she hs taught us about
    “LIFE” – not just in the bush but in general around the world and how families should be one another. Raise them, care for them, teach them, discipline them, share with them, and let them go to live their own lives.

  • http://www.eyesonafrica.net/ James Weis

    Grant -
    Well done documenting this interesting behavior between a mother and her near-adult offspring. It is clear that the maternal instincts run deeply in these cats and it will be interesting to see whether she allows her cub to set up a home range within her own territory or whether the relationship will eventually become more strained.
    James

  • http://www.aeros.bz Richard Jones

    I know a wildlife painter who had a huge influence on my own work. He painted wildlife with a great deal of knowledge about habitat and behaviour and so he is highly respected by his target audience not only for his painting skills, but the realism that comes from his knwledge of the animals he paints.

    I get that very same sense from the photos here that can only be created by a photographer with imense knowledge of the animals he photographs, Bravo!

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