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Among the big cats, leopards have the most diverse diet, ranging from impala to birds and even lizards. But bagging some meals can prove a rather thorny challenge… Imagine this Wild traveller’s surprise when he spotted not one, but two leopard kills that involved prickly porcupines.

It was late August 2016 when John Coe and his partner visited the Kruger National Park for the eighth time. With a leopard sighting as one of their most longed-for ticks, they couldn’t believe their luck when two leopards crossed their path. These were no standard sightings though… Both cats, different locations, were hunting porcupines. Could the leopards secure a meal with minimal injuries?

“In the Kruger you hear a lot of tales,” says John. “As usual, we were staying in Balule, and met a young lady and her mom from the UK at Lower Sabie. She told us about a leopard that hunts porcupines on the H1-3 – in broad daylight! Could it be true? We did some investigation.”

Kumana Dam, H1-3, 09:00

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Pictures by John Coe

I had never witnessed a hunt and kill before. When I saw the leopard entering the storm drain under the road, part of me was thinking… Surely, this can’t be the leopard!

Travelling on the H1-3, John spotted a leopard along the road near the Kumana Dam waterhole. “Seemingly very relaxed, the leopard moved into a storm drain under the road. Moments later two adult porcupines made a dash with the leopard on their tail. One of the porcupines rushed into dense scrub, leopard in hot pursuit. I heard a loud snapping noise as if someone had slammed a handful of straws onto a table. The leopard, clearly stunned, made its appearance, covered in quills. Both its front legs, chest and face were riddled with the sharp spines.

“After a quick lick and shake, the spotted cat returned to the drain and reappeared with the second porcupine in its mouth – it had clearly stayed put in the hope that the cat would not come back to the drain.” John watched as the leopard dropped its kill to pluck more quills from its chest and face. The spotted cat then moved its kill further away from the road.

North of Tshokwane, H1-3, 11:00

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The one thing I distinctly remember was the noise of the quills as the porcupine tried to outrun the leopard.

The second sighting happened on the same road, this time a few kilometres north of Tshokwane. “There were a lot of cars gathered around a leopard that was relaxing in the shade. After a while, the big cat moved towards the road – determined and focused. I drove to the other side of the road and waited patiently…

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“Two adult porcupines and a youngster popped out. Dad, I assume, ran off – leaving Mom to fend for Baby trailing behind. Not wasting any time, the leopard caught up and the mom had to stand her ground. With the leopard clearly setting its sight on the porcupette, the mother positioned herself between the baby and the leopard. She would back into the leopard whenever it got too close, but her efforts were to no avail. The leopard finally caught the baby in one paw, grabbed hold of it in its mouth and made a run for it.

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“The kill seemed instant and I don’t recollect any noise from the baby. The mother looked towards the leopard as it moved away. Was she thinking about saving her offspring? She soon retreated into the distance. Watching the last few terrifying moments of the baby’s life was hard to stomach. My partner and I made our way towards Lower Sabie – awestruck and in silence.”

Visit John’s 500px page to see more of his pictures.

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