When Michael Dippenaar of At Close Quarters entered our Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016 competition with an amazing image of a leopard pulling a python out of a tree, we just couldn’t help but ask him for the story behind the picture and this is what he said:
We had come to the end of an eventful four-night photographic safari in the northern Sabi Sand and set off on our final morning drive of the trip. After spending some time with two female lionesses, we headed off to continue our search for photographic subjects. It was then that we stumbled into a really rare sighting.
At first we were unsure what was going on, but we quickly realised that what we were seeing was something special.
A massive male leopard known as Tingana was sitting next to a small bush willow tree, looking up into its branches. We then saw what he was looking at – hanging about two metres up, was a massive four-metre long African rock python. The python was already dead and partially eaten, smelling oddly of fish.
Tingana fed on the hanging carcass for a few minutes before deciding it was time to retrieve the python from the tree for easier access to his meal.
Naturally, we had assumed that Tingana had stashed the python in the tree, as leopards do, but this tree seemed awfully small for a large male leopard to climb, and it wasn’t the usual tree you would expect a leopard to stash a kill in. It was then that we were informed by our ranger, who had spoken to another on the sighting, that a camera trap had caught footage of a honey badger dragging the massive snake past it the night before.
It was difficult to imagine a relatively small honey badger dragging this massive four-metre python, let alone hoisting it into the branches of a tree. However, the ranger reminded and assured us that this was indeed possible, and that honey badgers were immensely powerful and had been known to stash kills in trees.
Tingana tried with all his might to pull the snake from the tree, but it was very well wedged in a fork of the tree and would not budge. Eventually he stood on his hind legs and used all his weight and force to try and free the serpent, but it was still unable to free it from the tree.
At this point, and looking somewhat dejected, he circled the tree, planning his next move.
The next thing we knew, up he went. He jumped into the tree and climbed up to free the snake. This was very humorous to witness, as the large male leopard looked awkward in the somewhat flimsy looking tree.
However, Tingana knew exactly what he was doing and the snake fell with a thud onto the ground, followed by a somewhat pleased looking leopard. Grabbing the python, Tingana started dragging it at pace towards a drainage line and some trees.
We struggled to keep up over the difficult terrain but eventually found him again, dismounting from a large tree, python safely stashed away. He then sauntered down to some bare sand in the drainage line and cleaned himself, as leopards do. We left him to bask in his success, our adrenaline pumping as we realised what we had just witnessed.