A snort breaks through the peaceful lull of the midmorning heat as a herd of impala stand in groups under the shade of the trees and all at once they are all on alert and looking in the same direction, their dark eyes scanning the landscape for the slightest movement. They carefully observe the trees and bushes looking for signs of the predator that is the cause of the call. The impala move nervously across the road, followed closely by a leopard that is stalking them. The leopard is nearly within distance for attacking when it is distracted by a movement to one side and makes a wrong movement that reveals her location. In an instant the impala see her and run away out of reach, better luck next time. This is a typical leopard hunt story!
The chances of witnessing a leopard hunt are very slim, due to the fact that they hunt primarily at night. And they are elusive and hard to spot and hunt with stealth, using their superb camouflage to creep up as close as possible to their target. They hunt, kill and feed quickly and quietly to avoid attracting attention from lions and hyena that can chase them off and steal their prey.
These factors made a sighting in Ruaha National Park this past month all the more special.
The leopard crept up amongst the thick bushes and attacked a big male impala in a little clearing in the riverine forest. The pictures show how the leopard killed the impala by using his strong jaws to clasp around the muzzle, suffocating the impala. He then also bit around the neck and held till he was certain the impala was dead. The leopard then wasted no time in dragging his kill out of the open area and under a big bush where he immediately started devouring his prey.
Leopards being primarily solitary animals have a varying hunt success, with statistics ranging from 14% for a lone male to 38% for individuals in habitats that are abundant with game. Interestingly, some studies have shown that female leopards with cubs tend to have a higher success rate than males as motherhood motivates them to be more efficient hunters. The leopards’ success rate tends to be greater than that of lions, as the leopards are stealthier. Social predators that hunt in groups are the most successful – for example cheetah or wild dogs. Leopards will hunt a large variety of prey, from bigger antelope to birds, monkeys and even insects. In sub-Saharan leopards over 90 different species of prey have been recorded.
Story by Rebecca Phillips and the guides at Mdonya Old River camp