Leopards love warthog as a meal, and one of the techniques they have developed to hunt them is sitting on top of their burrows in the early morning. If there is a warthog in the burrow, chances are it will need to come out and graze after a night of being tucked away.
One such early morning happened at Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve, where Drew Abrahamson of Captured In Africa was staying. They stumbled across Thlangisa sitting on a mound – an incredibly efficient female leopard who has her territory in the heart of the western sector in world-famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
“It was an overcast and cool summer’s morning, the perfect temperature for predators to still be out looking for a meal, especially one with two voracious four month old cubs to feed. With pure excitement at the fact that we had found her, our guide Jehanne positioned the vehicle and switched off while we sat watching. Not 10 minutes later, Thlangisa’s body language changed and we realised there was a warthog in the burrow. Her ears were pricked listening out for the slightest sound or scrape against the sand from the inside. The next minute an adult warthog leapt from the burrow and literally ran for her life!”
Unbeknown to us, but not Thlangisa, who stayed still, there were a few little piglets who stayed behind. Thlangisa knew exactly what she was doing. Climbing slowly down the mound with a stretch in between, Thlangisa made her way to the entrance. She crawled so far in that all we could see was the tip of her tail, flicking from left to right with excitement.
There was no way that there was anything in there – not that deep surely. Would she not get stuck? She went in and came out a few times. We thought she was out of luck when she disappeared one last time.
The next minute all hell broke loose and she emerged from the burrow with a squealing piglet in her mouth, then another, and another, which ran through her legs. She dropped the one she was carrying and went for the second, bounding through the bush.”
“Jehanne started the vehicle. We drove a few meters and saw Thlangisa racing back in the direction of the burrow hot on the heels of a piglet making the most awful screech. She finally caught up with it and bit it in such a way to break its back. She left it there and went off to find the others, who were by this stage long gone. Our hearts broke, with the remaining piglet now unable to move. Thlangisa casually made her way back as she knew it was not going anywhere. We then realised she was taking it back to her cubs alive; she needed to start teaching them to make kills for themselves. This was a huge learning curve for the cubs and a heart breaking thing for people to witness.”
“We followed her for about 15 minutes while she made her way through the dense bush. Eventually putting the piglet down and calling softly, two beautiful cubs came out of hiding, running towards mom. One became distracted with the piglet while the other came for a reassuring greeting. After lots of love, head rubs and licks, Thlangisa settled down to rest and leave the ‘kill’ to her cubs.”
“What ensued after that was an amazing insight into leopard cub behaviour. We sat and watched for at least an hour as the piglet was passed from one cub to the next, each taking turns to practice the throat hold that suffocates prey. They played, fought, hissed, and the ferocious growls that were coming from these little fur balls even gave mom Thlangisa a good fright, as she looked utterly bewildered at what she was seeing.”
“We finally left with mixed emotions after two hours of viewing. Sad for the warthog mom who had lost one of her babies, yet also thrilled at being able to witness one of the most elusive big cats teaching her cubs a life lesson – and of course providing a much needed meal. It is a lesson that has today seen them to adulthood and subsequently taken over territories of their own. Thlangisa now has new cubs, who she is going to teach in the same way she did these two girls. Forever adding to the strong gene pool of the Sabi Sand leopards, who are some of the most photographed leopards throughout Africa! One should always feel privileged to witness interactions such as this, and as I always say, these animals let you into their world and offer up a trust that should never be taken for granted!”