My photo group was on the Serengeti in Tanzania during the last two weeks in May 2018.
One morning while out on a game drive, we got a call over the radio that a baby leopard was in danger on a nearby kopje. My driver, Tompson, picked up speed and told me what to expect. Along the way, I translated all the terms and relayed the situation to the people in my Land Cruiser.
Here’s the situation we were racing toward. A mother leopard left her young baby unattended on a kopje. A kopje is a pile of rocks on the Serengeti plain. The kopje has crevices between all the rocks. Sometimes trees and bushes grow on top of the kopje or around the base of the kopje.
This is traditionally a great place to raise cubs and stash them while out hunting or sleeping. The babies are usually pretty safe with nooks and crannies to sleep, sun, and play.
In this case, though, a group of olive baboons had gathered on the top of the kopje. Baboons hate leopards. That means the baboons will kill the baby leopard if they find it. With no mother leopard on site, the baby leopard was in real danger.
We arrived at the kopje in a few minutes and found a group of twenty baboons on one side of the kopje. After driving around the kopje, we found the baby leopard on the other side. The baby was very young and agitated. It paced, sat down, paced, and then sat again. The baby seemed to know things weren’t right.
We photographed the baby leopard and keep watching for the baboons. There was a good distance between the two so it seemed that the baby leopard was safe.
Then the baby leopard got nervous. It started climbing across the rocks of the kopje and maneuvered under bushes. It came into view then disappeared out of view. But the baboons must have smelled the baby or seen movement. Four large males started slowly moving across the top of the kopje toward the baby leopard.
The baby moved down the rocks and found a crevice. Maybe it was the crevice where it was born or a roosting place with its mother. The baby walked into the crevice, came back out, looked around, and then went back in the crevice. We all encouraged the baby to get deep into the crevice but, of course, our words meant nothing to the young leopard.
The four male baboons started perching on the rocks outside and above the crevice. The baby moved deeper in the crevice to escape the baboons. The baboons peered into the crevice. They moved closer to the crevice. The baby leopard was surrounded. If the baboons headed into the crevice, the baby was cornered.
Someone in the Land Cruiser next to me said “I don’t want to hear what comes next.” Someone else said, “I don’t want to see what’s coming.” My driver told me the baby was a goner and that there was no way the baby could fight off the baboons.
My driver suggested we pull the Land Cruiser back just in case the mother leopard was trying to get back from her hunt. I asked everyone in the three vehicles if they wanted to stay and watch the kill or move back and let nature happen.
Everyone agreed that the attack was going to be horrible. We had out photos of the baby leopard and everyone wanted to remember him as a cute, little kitten.
All three of our Land Cruisers pulled away from the kopje and we turned our backs on nature. During lunch we talked but the baby leopard and everyone wondered what happened. Our thoughts were really with the little guy.
When we left camp later in the day, my driver Tompson asked if I’d like to take the group back to the kopje to see what happened. Tompson assured me the baby was dead but I decided we needed to go back.
A half-hour later we were nearing the kopje. I started scanning the rocks for anything that looked like a leopard. There were no baboons in sight. Not one.
I stood up on my seat with my body out of the top of the Land Cruiser and started scanning the rocks. High up on one of the rocks I spotted the profile of a feline. “There she is,” I yelled. Tompson spotted the mother leopard immediately and drove the Land Cruiser in photography distance. The other two Land Cruisers in our group fell into position next to us.
Mother leopard was laid out on the top of the kopje all pretty and content. She had a fresh, deep gash from her nostril straight up her nose. She’d been in a fight and she was the winner.
Tompson popped up on his seat and poked out of the top of the Land Cruiser. He raised his arms high in the sky and yelled “You are a good mother leopard!!” The mother leopard beat off the baboons and she took a beating while doing it. Yet, was the baby alive?
My vehicle drove slowly to the other side of the kopje. There was the baby leopard! It was out in the open and resting on a nice warm rock. Baby was safe and Tompson gave the mother another “Your a good mother leopard!!” salute.
Mother leopard didn’t take to our noisy group of photographers. We were a good distance from her but were pretty excited that mother and baby were safe. I suspect we were a bit noisy.
The female moved deep into a crevice protected by a small bush. She bathed her injured nose one more time and then fell asleep. (People in my group would have given her all the Neosporin in their packs if she would have allowed us near her.) .
Baby leopard gave us a few more stunning photos and then fell asleep. It lived for another day in the Serengeti.
Stay tuned for more adventures from our Strabo Photo Tours Collection trip to the Serengeti in May 2018.