Leopard vs Baboon...

03rd August 2012
The relationship between leopards and baboons is a complex game of threat and fear. Baboons certainly feature highly on leopards' menus, and leopards in the Luangwa are well known for being expert primate hunters. But baboons are very strong and highly social, so leopards, which are solitary hunters, must balance the risk of getting injured in the process.

I watched some very interesting interactions between these two species last week after we came across the body of an injured baboon just off the road. The baboon was bleeding badly and had clearly been attacked (rather than having fallen from a tree as I have seen once before). The rest of the troop were all around, calling intermittently to each other and giving the more general wa-hoo alarm call at regular intervals. Some were still up on termite mounds keeping watch and this all led us to think that a predator had been in the area very recently.

We watched for a long time, eventually moving to the shade of some trees nearby. Soon after a leopard cub crossed in front of me, heading in the direction of the baboon, but quickly taking cover in more thicket. This confirmed the situation - the female leopard who lives in that area must have been hunting baboons (or was mobbed while with her cubs?) and had inflicted the injuries on the baboon.

We turned our attention to the baboon which was still alive and struggling in the sun. We suspected that the leopard would return to claim her prize, but there were still a large number of baboons around, some 'guarding' their colleague closely.

After a long time, the leopard appeared, and the baboons began to go wild, barking frantically and trying to warn their injured friend. Amazingly, the victim was still able to get up weakly and began to move towards the rest of the troop, even though he had been lying in the sun for over 2 hours.

But the leopard was fast and she caught up with the baboon and took it by the scruff of the neck. As she turned to carry it back to the bush where she had been hiding (with her cubs) the baboons surrounded her, coming as close as they dared. (I didn't manage to photograph these moments, as I was moving the vehicle out from behind a bush to get a better view.)

At one point, one of the baboons grabbed the leopard by her tail and she dropped the baboon. She spun around, and the baboons backed off, perhaps remembering the damage that the cat had inflicted on their friend.

Eventually, she made it back to the bush and the baboons moved away slowly.

It was certainly interesting to watch the interaction between the two species - neither one dominant or entirely submissive to the other. Events like this are very unusual and to watch it played out in full daylight was a wonderful experience.

There's an amazing video of this event, taken by one of our guests here.


Photo comment By Amber: Edward, These pics are fantastic! I agree with you about being able to experience the interaction between the two species. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing :D p.s, what lens did you shoot these with? your depth of field is awesome.
Photo comment By Edward: Hi Amber - it was probably the most exciting event I've witnessed since I arrived 3 years ago. I was using a 70-200 f2.8 lens which gives pretty shallow depth of field, especially when you are quite low to the action and there's some open space around the subject. It might have been better to see the leopard face-on but then we would have had the sun in our faces so any photography would have been hard!
Photo comment By gman: thanks for the info

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