Buffalos Chase Mating Leopards
It was a morning safari with Field Guide Ruvan Grobler and his Tracker Juice Khoza. We were looking for a herd of buffalo which we knew were in the area. Over the past few weeks, very large herds have been wandering through Lion Sands, which is always an impressive sight.
Ruvan and Juice had found and were following fresh buffalo tracks. Juice even pointed out the area where the buffalo had recently been resting. Then they noticed that the stride and pace of the tracks changed. There had been a disturbance; the buffalo had been running from something.
As we were stopped, we heard the distinct grunting sound of a leopard nearby. Juice and Ruvan were in agreement – this wasn’t a territorial call, this was the sound of leopards mating! I tried to contain the excitement for what I was about to see. Leopards mating is a very special behaviour to witness, and while it isn’t uncommon for guests at Lion Sands to see this, after many months it was still something that I had never seen.
The bush was thick where the leopards were and it wasn’t clear exactly where they were. We drove around the area and waited to get more audio to point us in the right direction. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, we heard the rasping again and made our way towards it. Then we saw the two leopards! The female’s face was darker than usual, and Juice explained this was because she had been rolling in the dung of the buffalo to mask her scent. We followed them as they moved through the bush together. Then Juice pointed ahead of us – the herd of buffalo we had been tracking. There were at least 50 strong.
The leopards continued on their route, heading straight towards the herd. Then they too became aware of the buffalo, and the male leopard crouched into a typical stalking pose. Buffalo is an uncommon but not impossible prey species for a leopard, but we weren’t sure if he was trying to hunt or just stay out of sight.
The buffalos get closer…
The two leopards got within 25 meters of the herd and still remained undetected. They probably would have been able to get away unnoticed, except the female decided that it was time to mate again, right then and there. She displayed her typical coy behaviour, flicking her tail around the male’s face, and then he mounted her. It lasted about a minute, and at the end the two vocalized loudly, instantly gaining the attention of the buffalos.
The buffalos then too began grunting and a few of the big bulls ran straight at the leopards to chase them away. The male leopard ran off first, followed by the female, who ran straight up a tree. The buffalos then surrounded her under the tree. She waited for a few minutes in the safety of the tree until she was ready to make her escape, despite the whole herd being underneath her. She leaped down and ran away from the danger, with the herd giving her one final chase out of the area.
We managed to relocate the mating pair, and watched them mate two more times. We also saw them come across a giraffe bull, who was aware of them but didn’t seem too bothered by their presence.
It’s always very interesting to see how different species interact with each other, especially between predators and prey. It was a very special drive, and particularly exciting for myself and the guests to tick off “mating leopard” from the safari checklist.
Words, photos and video by: Charlotte Arthun