leopard at andbeyond ngala with a squirrel

A leap of leopards (literally)

Every now and then a wildlife encounter leaves even the most veteran of rangers speechless…
by 13th October 2017

Going on safari is the ultimate adventure and the best way we can prepare first-time safari-goers for the magic they’re about to experience is to tell them, quite simply, to expect the unexpected. Anything can happen, it is Mother Nature after all. You never know what’s going to happen or what you’re going to see and we can certainly guarantee that no two game drives are ever the same. That’s the luxury of going on safari – every day is an adventure!

Safari first-timers and addicts alike get to experience first-hand the luxury of spending quality time outdoors in Africa’s most iconic landscapes; the luxury of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat; the luxury of learning fascinating facts from their expert ranger and tracker; and best of all, the luxury of witnessing those unanticipated, action-packed wildlife interactions. It’s like watching a dramatic wildlife documentary unfold right before your very eyes. One would, therefore, assume that our rangers have seen it all (and that they have), but there are still unexpected encounters that leave even the most veteran rangers speechless. This is one such occasion.

At &Beyond Ngala Private Game Reserve, leopards fall out of the trees. Literally. When ranger Jenni Chin and (then) lodge manager Stephen Smith were driving through the reserve, they had no idea what was in store for them. They observed a young female leopard gazing intently at the upper reaches of a mopane tree. Certainly not a tree a leopard would typically climb, Jenni and Stephen were amazed to then observe the predator scale the tree, looking visibly awkward and uncomfortable in the mopane branches.

A small ‘object’ fell from the upper boughs, with the leopard leaping off the tree in hot pursuit. Was it a suicide bird? Was it a snake? When Jenni and Stephen heard squirrels frantically alarm-calling in the distance, they realised the cat was after a quick squirrely snack. They watched in disbelief as the leopard pursued the squirrel on the ground for a bit and then returned to the same tree. Would she climb the flimsy tree for the second time?

Sure enough, after milling around the base of the tree, up she went again and the duo repeated their acrobatic act a second time. The squirrel found temporary refuge in a hollowed log that soon became a holding cell rather than a safe harbour. In a moment of panic, it suddenly made a fatal dash right into the deadly jaws of the predator. As the leopard proudly sauntered back to the road, she glanced back at the vehicle almost as if to boast and show off her prize before moving off into the thicket.

All that effort for a mere appetiser, but a once in a lifetime sighting that will stay in the minds of Jenni and Stephen for a long time. They don’t call it a leap of leopards for nothing (speaking of, why not test your knowledge of wildlife collective nouns here?).

Video © Jenni Chin.

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