Lions vs leopards – an unforgettable safari encounter!

Posted by Emily on Thu February 1, 2024 in Sightings Report and Wildlife.

Big cats hold a special place in our imagination, with lions and leopards often being the most sought-after sightings on safari. Revered for their incredible beauty and ferocious power, it’s no wonder that we are fascinated with them. Yet, as much as we dream of the perfect lion sighting or a bucket-list leopard in a tree, we rarely dare to think of seeing both at once.

An unbelievable sighting

However, for some of our very first guests in 2024, this was exactly what happened! Having located 4 lionesses in the morning, our guides decided to return to the area shortly before dusk – hoping to catch the tawny felines rousing in the cool of the early evening. Imagine our surprise when we realised not one, but two leopards were now perched in a tree just 50 metres from the sleeping pride, each still completely unaware of the other. Making the most of the moment, our guides parked in between them, allowing our guests to revel in both sightings at once.

The sleeping lioness is unaware of the intruders in her midst

The mother leopard carefully slunk away into the bushes still unaware of the nearby danger, but her confident cub remained exactly where he was. Unfortunately, his lofty position up a leadwood tree could neither reveal the deadly secrets hidden amongst the vegetation. The now awakening lions were slowly yawning and stretching to their feet. The sun had almost disappeared below the horizon as the four lionesses lazily emerged into a clearing. Only now, too late to move and risk showing his position, did the young leopard cub realise the imminent danger below.

The young leopard sat completely unaware of the danger lurking nearby

Danger approaches

Minutes passed and the cub, knowing his best bet was to stay in the tree, watched vigilantly as the lions came to rest once more in the open. Darkness crept in and, whether she sensed the danger or simply wanted her cub to join her, the mother leopard gave a quiet contact call to her son. Alarmingly, it wasn’t quiet enough. In the still air of the incoming night, the gentle chuff carried straight to the waiting ears of the nearby pride. At once, the lionesses’ heads turned in the direction of the leopards.

A soft chuff was all it took to alert this lioness to the intruders

One by one, the pride stood and crept towards the noise. Soon, they were standing directly below the male cub still perched on his branch. However, the lions hadn’t spotted him yet. Instead, they were fixated on the bushes ahead and frozen in deep concentration. Not wanting to jeopardise the mother leopard, our guide turned off the spotlight and the group sat in tense silence. Waiting. Then, as if in unspoken unison, the four lions launched an attack. In the darkness, the sound of a scuffle and a sharp sequence of growls cut through the tension. The guide dared to lift the spotlight for just a moment, revealing the triumphant silhouette of a leopard high atop a nearby dead tree. She had made it!

A happy ending

Disgruntled in their failure, the lions continued to sniff and search at the base of the dead tree. At this point, the mother leopard was under considerable stress – with our vehicle only adding to that. Not wanting her to make a rash decision in an attempt to reunite with her cub and escape our gaze, we decided to leave and let nature play its course. As one of our more shy leopards, it was hoped that removing our presence would help her relax and wait out the danger below. The group of elated guests agreed and, night now completely surrounding them, they returned to the lodge jubilant at the evening’s events. Happily, the story also ended well for our leopard family as we later discovered mother and son unharmed and reunited a few days later. What an astounding and unforgettable start to 2024!


Words and Photos by Emily Whiting