The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is especially known for its incredible wildlife encounters – from epic kills to captivating animal interactions. But what photographer Fanie Heymans encountered was truly breathtaking… Feast your eyes on one ferocious leopard brawl.

The moment African wildlife enthusiast Fanie Heymans of PhotoPixSA came across two agitated leopards in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, he immediately grabbed his camera. Shortly thereafter an unforgettable showdown ensued. Fanie writes:

“We were driving along the Auob River when we saw a leopard walking towards Mata-Mata. It passed a few blue wildebeest and did not show any interest at all. We thought it strange – there went our opportunity of photographing a kill that day. A few hundred metres further the leopard suddenly stopped and we spotted a second one. The leopards were approaching one another, moving away from the rocky riverbank and straight in our direction.

“Within seconds all hell broke loose. All we could hear was these strange growling noises and dust filled the air. The moment was both exciting and scary. The earth was literally trembling underneath our vehicle. It seemed like a fight for territory.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

“They fought for a few seconds, then broke loose. One began walking away – but the other wouldn’t let things be, and the fight continued with much growling and snarling. Soon round two was over as quickly as it had begun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

Round three

“At this stage one leopard was retreating and submitting to the stronger one. Then the fight started again.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

“Within a few minutes the dust of the third duel had settled and the two leopards walked off. From a nearby cave we could still hear the occasional growl. Soon after, almost as if nothing had ever happened, quiet set in. What a way to conclude one’s holiday.”

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

According to Dr Matthew Schurch of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project, the leopard on the right is known as Miera and the cat on the left is called Tsamma.

http://www.PhotoPixSA.co.za. This male and female Leopard fighting in the Mata Mata riverbed in. Just a pity that the picture was taken directly into the sun.

Not just any old cat fight

According to Dr Matthew Schurch of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project, this specific fight took place on 22 May 2012, approximately 1.4km south of the Rooibrak waterhole. “The fight was between two females, Miera and Tsamma, and in all likelihood was a territorial dispute, which I believe Miera won.”

Both leopards were born in 2010. Miera was born to Khomani, a female whose territory centred around Montrose and Batulama but extended north to about Urikaruus. Tsamma was born to Barolong, a leopard with a much smaller river bed territory. Barolong was rarely seen far from Urikaruus, says Matthew.

By 2012 both these young females were striking out on their own. Miera’s mother, Khomani, had disappeared in January 2012 and had most likely died of old age, being at least 14 years old at the time. This meant her territory was no longer controlled by a dominant female. “Miera had already split from her mum and would have felt like it was her territory to take over,” says Matthew. “Tsamma, also having split from her mum, would have been looking for a territory since she couldn’t stay around Urikaruus.”

The fight

Matthew suspects Tsamma moved south and bumped into Miera in May 2012. “Judging by the images, Miera clearly has a more dominant pose, and following her throughout the fight sequence, she seems to generally be the more aggressive one. Tsamma, not really that much smaller, is much more submissive. I believe that a few fights probably took place over a couple of days as Miera was seen the following day (23 May) with no scars on her nose, and then I saw her on 27 May with quite a nasty little wound on the side of her nose (see below).

Leopard-Miera-Kgalagadi-Mathhew Schurch

Picture by Dr Matthew Schurch

After the fight

“Tsamma moved back north towards the borehole loops where she settled for a while. I never had another sighting report of her south of Kamqua. She was last sighted in December 2013 around Dalkeith. Miera on the other hand appears to have taken over her mother’s territory and has settled in the Montrose/Batulama area. At the start of last year Miera was seen with a cub, Masego (possibly her first). The cub is thriving and is regularly sighted around Batulama.”

To learn more about the leopards of the Kgalagadi and how to tell them apart, visit the Kgalagadi Leopard Project or follow them on Facebook.

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