Don’t Monkey Around With a Leopard

Looking for a place to cross a steep-sided stream bed on our way to view rhino, we found the fresh signs of a leopard who’d earlier found the same way across. We were all now wide awake with the prospect of our Big Five game viewing shooting up to two in a matter of minutes! Along with my tracker partner’s enthusiasm…

He was off the vehicle before I could bring it to a stop, lured by the strong smell – like popcorn ­– of the leopard’s scent markings and following its tracks out of sight. Remaining in radio contact, we left him to establish the animal’s direction of travel and paid the rhino a polite visit. Then joined him to search the riverside routes, but with no luck.

We decided it was time to take a coffee stop and chatted a little sadly about the guests’ departure arrangements for later that morning. But the bush had one last surprise for them… Vervet monkey alarm calls erupted on our side of the bank. I almost dropped my mocha – if we acted quickly, we could wrap up this safari with a bang!

Asking the guests to wait in the safety of the vehicle, I dashed off to investigate. Our tracker had headed off again on foot and I wondered if he’s heard the commotion. I arrived at the monkey’s treetop hideout and there at its base sat the young Tiyani leopard, her tail arched up over her back in annoyance at them for giving her position away.

I rushed back the 45 or so metres to collect the guests and, on our return, found our tracker, Tiyani and a nearly dead monkey. But neither him nor us were in time to see how the clever little Tiyani had caught the unfortunate primate. We watched, both awed and horrified, as she pinned it down and listened out for opportunistic hyenas.            

Deciding there was no need for evasive tree climbing, she took her prey into the grass to begin de-furring it, while the monkey troop continued to loudly warn each other to stay in the trees. Moments later, we were joined by another safari group alerting us to two hyenas who were closing in on our abandoned coffee stop!   

From the vehicle, our guests watched (and filmed) thoroughly amused as my tracker and I conducted a quick recovery operation, shooing away the scavengers (with the strongest bite force in the world) with our bare hands and angry faces. Successful, we returned to Tiyani who was still preparing her meal, but now aware of the hyenas.

The two did charge her trying to steal the monkey, but she’d already worked out a contingency plan. Heading up a leadwood tree in a flurry of spots, she scowled back at them in disdain for their (in her opinion) feeble attempt. She’d ascended a good 15m in only a few bounds, and now lay with her feast over some branches.            

I couldn’t believe our luck. The moral of this story? Stay alert and positive on your safari; you never know what is around the next bush…

Words by: Ranger Jamie Sangster

Photos: A special thank you to my guests Jeff, Henry, Ronald, Thomas, Michael, and Neuner for sharing their photos of this incredible sighting!


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