( Our two year old grandson specially likes leopards. This is for him.)
The South Luangwa Valley has a very high concentration of leopards, about one for every two square kilometers, but in the rainy season they are harder to find.
On a bush walk, we nearly trod on a leopard eating an Abdim’s Stork in the undergrowth under a large tree. The guides (who are always in front when you are on foot and in single file, for exactly this reason) caught a glimpse, but all we heard was an angry coughing grunt, and the rustle of leaves as it slipped away, leaving the carcass behind. When we came back two hours later, it had been back and taken its breakfast off somewhere else for a more tranquil dining experience.
But on a different day, from a vehicle, Charles, the National Park armed scout, saw two spotted hyenas deep in the long grass under a tree (here’s one, out in the open):
We got the vehicle as close as we could, and craning our necks saw an impala fawn carcass high in the tree, but no leopard. So we went away, and came back at dusk. The hyenas were slinking off, having given up hopes of a handout. And there in the tree was the leopard, draped over a branch with one leg stuck through a hole:
After a while he got up:
And climbed back up to his kill:
He was a young male, not one known to Fred my guide, with a good healthy set of teeth!.
I noticed a detail in one of my photos, and I have tried and failed to find out more about it. Here is a closeup of the back feet and lower back legs of the leopard:The wear and tear suggests that not only the pads come into contact with the ground or tree, but sometimes the whole tarsus. I have found photos of leopards descending trees head first, which they often do, and it does indeed sometimes look like the whole tarsus touches the trunk. I’ve also wondered whether they make extensive contact when they push off in one of their powerful leaps (up to 20 feet forwards, or 10 feet upwards). If anyone can shed light on this, I’d be interested.
* The title quote is from Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound.