Leopard and Lion stand off in the Mara

Masai Mara 3-13 Jan_2015_01722-2

There will not be a lot of wildlife photographers arguing that a good opportunity to photograph Africa’s two largest apex predators must rate very high on their all time wish list. Over the years I made a conscious decision not to go out of my way to look for lion and leopard but to linger just a little longer at natures small wonders that most photographers might not even bother to stop for. This decision was vindicated in two ways. Firstly I was rewarded with an amazing portfolio of nature behaviour of smaller species and birds- taken in a very short time frame- and secondly I just kept stumbling on amazing lion and leopard images as I went along my merry way virtually minding my own business.

Half of the Marsh pride’s females and cubs  crossed the Mara river from east to west and I found them in the Kichwa concession on my arrival the 3rd of January 2015. Apparently all four pride males also crossed, something that they did from time to time. Scar and his 3 Generals previously took over the Ololollo pride on the western side and simply had the best of both worlds. The arrival of some of the Marsh pride lionesses and cubs pushed Ololollo lionesses with their cubs south to the Serengeti border.

The morning of the 7th we were treated by very over cast weather with a strange foggy, smokey haze that puzzled the locals more than me. This haze turned out to be the nemesis of  the autofocus systems of all cameras of all photographers on this trip and more so at vital times of dramatic action. As the morning unfold a lioness caught a warthog, a male took it from her, other pride lionesses took down a buffalo that was rescued by some very aggressive buffalo bulls and the the lioness stole her warthog piglet back in all the commotion. To see more of these images please read the blog posting on www.cnpsafaris.com and the other blog postings of mine on this website.

I was slowly following a pride lioness as she was stalking another group of Warthogs with the VW Crafter purring in low range. Some beautiful sunlight  complimented the photographic nirvana I was enjoying, totally focused on the lioness , when suddenly our brilliant guide Alice shouted at me that the lionesses that were trailing behind us to the left chased a leopard up a tree! I turned the vehicle around and rushed to the scene. On arrival a grim reality dawned  me. Not only was a beautiful female leopard tugged safely high up in the tree but a three month old leopard cub lied motionless on the ground amidst the lions!

At a stage the leopard indicated that she wanted to come down to her cub but the the lionesses hurled them selves forward to make it clear that she will be killed if she did. A subadult male then grabbed the dead leopard cub and proudly displayed it while he was running away.


Masai Mara 3-13 Jan_2015_01746-2

Masai Mara 3-13 Jan_2015_01754-2

The sub adult eventually dropped the leopard cub in a open area surrounded with high grass with the female leopard looking on from her elevated position. Slowly different pride members made their way to the dead leopard cub for closer inspection.

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It was clear out of their interaction that although the pride of lions was victorious it was traumatised by the confrontation with the leopard . They kept on reassuring each other , rubbing their heads and tugging their bodies close together telling each other they were ok.

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All of this happened in minutes and when I finally caught my breath again I experienced no joy. The feelings of photographic nirvana was replaced by a wave of sadness for the loss a precious leopard cub. This feelings of mine was shared by all with me  but more so by a very agitated Alice that gave the guide that was first on the scene a tong lashing because he did not drive his vehicle between the lions and leopard to save the cub. Not for a moment did she contemplate what could have happened to his clients in an open vehicle  with fighting lion and leopard surrounding them. I have always maintained that Africa’s wildlife can not be saved if a love for African wildlife could not be fostered in the local populations of Africa. I will be honest and admit that I had doubt if it can truthfully ever happen. Alice changed my mind on the spot!

It took the female leopard a long time after the lions departed before she came down. She came close to where her cub was lying but never reached it before she turned away and disappeared out of my sight.Masai Mara 3-13 Jan_2015_01808-2

There can be no doubt that the Mara in January is a worthy addition to to the CNP safari calendar. Please watch www.cnpsafaris.com for more details and join us in 2016. Warm greeting from the Masai Mara and hope you have a fantastic 2015. Keep on clicking. Lou Coetzer

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Posted in African Travel, Kenya, Leopard, Lions, Lou Blog, Masai Mara, Masai Mara Green Season, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , .


  1. The saddest part of all is the senselessness of the leopard cub’s demise. As I had suspected while reading and before I got to the end, the lions had no intention to consume the cub, it was more a making of point to the mother, a ritualistic “killing”. As such the lioness behaviour afterward, the reassuring and the consoling the death of even a alter-species infant was traumatic. Nature is cruel but beautiful.
    A force to be reckoned.
    Life so rudimentary.
    Kill or be killed.

  2. Lou, what an amazing experience. We are very privileged to spend a lot of time in the Timbavati in an area where there are not a lot of lions at the moment – nor have there been for about the past 4 or so years – another wonderful story about the African bush and how complex everything is. In any event, whilst I do the same as you do, enjoying every moment, from a lizard to a Spring flower to a snail to the different kinds of grasses, we also get some amazing leopard sightings a well. Whilst I love everything, every leopard sighting that we do have is extraordinary and special for me.

    When I saw your amazing photographs, I was blown away both by how superb they were (as usual) as well as the deepest sadness that you must have felt, which I am sure I would have felt as well. You did a superb job of capturing everything, describing the scene so eloquently and observing the behaviour between the pride members, I was drawn in totally! There is an expression “Africa is not for sissies” which I feel is so very true! Africa is wild, fierce and without compassion but is is also our deepest love that words cannot truly describe. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Thank you so much for your response Sandy. I differ from you in only one aspect. When we Africans say that our continent is “not for sissies” we never refer to the pressure wildlife suffer but rather how difficult our lives are. When I see how people in the northern hemisphere struggle months on end in bitter cold in the dark and desperately long for a bit of African sunshine and pay vast amounts to feel our African sun on their skins I actually think that we Africans have it oh so easy without realising it most of the time.In terms of wildlife brutality you are right that we in Africa really get up close to behaviour that is seldom seen.

    • Dave it seems that you and Johan Lamprecht both experience the same sadness that I did when the leopard cub was killed by the lions. What really surprised me was the anger of our guide towards her colleagues that arrived first on the scene for not driving their vehicles between the lions and the leopard in an attempt to save the leopard cub. It only dawned on me later that for this passionate lady the leopard cub’s survival was actually more important than the safety of the clients on the open safari vehicles. Now that was local passion for Africa’s wildlife heritage that really inspired us all.

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