On an afternoon game drive, myself and my tracker Joel Khoza were looking for leopard when we came to an area where there were several vultures in the air and treetops.
We looked for signs of a predator or a kill but didn’t find anything. Joel got off the vehicle to check a dry riverbed nearby. Within a few moments, he reappeared, rushing back to the vehicle with a huge smile, giving away that he had found something.
He indicated to me to turn around and hurry to the other side. As we pulled around, I spotted a leopard in the very top of a tall Marula tree. He was sitting on a vulture’s nest! There was a baby vulture in the nest and the leopard was swatting his paw at it.
The mother vulture was flying overhead screeching and mobbing the leopard (“mobbing” describes the behaviour of birds trying to chase away predators by diving at them).
The leopard was grunting and hissing at baby. Even without recognising him by his spot patterns, it was already obvious to me which leopard this was – our youngest resident male. We call him Hanyile.
Hanyile is well-known for being a busy-body and curious leopard. True to his reputation, he was up to his antics again.
Hanyile was hesitant to jump in the nest and remained on edge. After about 10 minutes, he grabbed the chick with one of his claws and raised it up and down, to either to get a better look or to bite it.
After picking it up, he lost his grip and the vulture baby plummeted to the ground. It didn’t survive the fall.
Though the baby had fallen, the mother vulture was still pestering the leopard. With the object of his curiosity gone, he made his way down the tree.
Hanyile showed off his delicate balance as he descended from the flimsy branches. At the bottom, he sniffed around the chick but then left it and moved on without biting or trying to eat it.
This is not something that myself or Joel had ever seen before. The best explanation I can give is that Hanyile was curious about the vulture in the nest and he went to investigate.
Hanyile is a young cat so he still has a lot to discover, and exploring is how he learns about his surroundings.
He didn’t eat the meat of the chick, most likely because he wasn’t desperate for food and would prefer the meat of something else.
It’s documented that other birds of prey will snatch a vulture from a nest, but to witness a young leopard doing this is a rare sight.
It is certainly not something I will ever forget.
Words by: Ruvan Grobler
Photos by: Ivory Lodge Guest Michelle Matthies DiSciullo