This Leopard Mom Went Far to Protect Her Cubs!


Nov 25 2015
Early morning, Daniel Mc William was travelling in the Kruger National Park, approximately 2 kilometres west of Lower Sabie rest camp when he came across this once in a lifetime sighting. And for many, the rarity of this will never even be a once in a lifetime! Daniel visits national and private parks as often as possible, and exclaims, “I have never witnessed interaction like this before”. This trip to the Kruger was the first time that he was part of the Latest Sightings community (Our community-based smartphone app that helps its users experience amazing sightings through real-time sighting alerts in game reserves around the world, download here: iOS App Store / Android App Storein the Kruger, and he says, 'It made a huge difference to our trip.' Perhaps the other key to seeing this sighting, was due to his patience, “Others came and went, missing the action!”, he says.
 
What the images don’t show, is two pairs of mating lions spotted across the river. Listening to the roars, and watching the pairs mate added to their experience. With his Canon 60D DSLR and a Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 Di VC USD, he photographed and observed the lions for about 10 minutes. “At this stage, I didn’t think it could possibly get any better,” he says. That is until he spotted the leopard sitting on the rock!
 
“Having 2 of the big 5 within 150 meters of each other was simply unbelievable,” says Daniel. And then, as the lions started moving, he saw the opportunity to snap an image of a leopard and lion together. “Still, I never expected what was coming...! The lioness moved off first which got the attention of the leopard, however the lioness did not spot her, and continued. The male lion followed her, however he immediately noticed the leopard on the rock. And then I realised, the leopard had two cubs playing below her.”
 
 
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Naturally predators are there to compete, and will often try and eliminate competition. If all predators got along, food sources would be minimal. “This really got my adrenalin pumping. In the moment, it was a bit surreal as it happened so fast. It was only afterwards that it set in just how rare this unfolding was, and how privileged I was,” exclaims Daniel. 
 
From that moment, things happened fast! The lion sprinted towards the cubs! “This is when the leopard jumped off of the rock and challenged him. I believe this was the distraction required to save her cubs,” says Daniel.  “You can see in the sequence of the images as quickly as she jumped down and took on this huge male lion, she was back up on top of the boulder out of harm’s way, now that the cubs were safely hidden under the boulder.
 
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For the first 2 months of any leopard cub’s life, their mother keeps them hidden in dense bush, rock clefts or hollow tree trunks. And typically they stay with their mom for approximately 1.5 years, during which time she will teach and protect them. Only when they can hunt for themselves, will they leave their mother’s side. Once the male realised he had no access to the cubs, he quickly lost interest. And mother leopard proudly stood atop her rock and watched him stroll away. Daniel says, “Perhaps it was my perception, but as he turned around he surely wore a look of defeat”. 
 
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Daniel concludes, 'Finally, always pay extra careful attention to your surroundings. Often this will allow you to witness things you may have missed!” 
 
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Written by Tracy Burrows. Photo and Commentary by Daniel Mc William

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