Spotting one of South Africa’s big cats in their natural environment is undoubtedly an exhilarating experience. Witnessing how a Kruger leopard sets its sights on a rock monitor relaxing in a tree… Well, now you know why we chose this unique sighting as this month’s sequence of the month. Pictures by Mariska Nortjé

When Wild Card member Mariska Nortjé and her husband decided to explore the Kruger National Park early one morning, they had no idea what the day had in store for them. Driving on the H9, some six kilometres from Phalaborwa Gate, Mariska was greeted with the sight of two wild and wonderful creatures sharing a tree: a leopard and a rock monitor.

“We came across them at about 09:30. At that moment, excitement flooded me. This was the first time I’d seen a leopard and a monitor. It was glorious! The positioning of our vehicle was perfect and I managed to get great shots.”

Although you might not associate monitor lizards with trees, these reptiles will scale trees to hunt for prey or to avoid predators. This time the monitor didn’t manage to escape its pursuer. “At first you could hear the silent screams of the monitor to be saved. After a while, only the smell of adrenalin and blood remained.”

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The leopard struggles to get hold of the rock monitor, but its persistence pays off and it manages to rip the monitor from the tree.

Staring death in the face, the monitor is not giving up without a fight… Scrambling to free itself from the leopard’s deadly grip, the monitor lashes out with its tail, but the leopard quickly manoeuvres around and aims for the reptile’s head.

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The monitor’s fight for survival takes a turn for the worse – now the leopard has the upper-hand as it wraps its jaws around the monitor’s head and inflicts a deadly bite.

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Within seconds, the leopard’s prey dies but before the feast can commence the stealthy hunter scans its surrounds to make sure there are no impending threats.

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Unusual meal?

According to Mariska, the leopard “struggled to eat the monitor”. “The leopard tried for quite some time, but with no success. It dropped the monitor to the ground and quickly lost interest.”

Wild asked to Dr Matthew Schurch of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project what he made of the interaction. “Leopards are extremely opportunistic hunters and have a distribution of prey species far greater than other members of the Panthera genus. Their typical targets would be ungulates in the 10-40kg range but feeding on smaller animals is not uncommon. Younger individuals will often struggle to bring down larger prey species until they have developed and honed the necessary skills.”

Matthew says this Kruger leopard might still be quite young. “It has very white teeth, so feeding on a rock monitor is not out of the question, particularly if they are finding larger species harder to hunt. I also suspect that even though the leopard didn’t feed on the monitor straight away, it would have returned later.”

Stay here

Want to spend a few nights close to where this month’s sequence took place? Here are Wild’s top three suggestions:

  1. Book a spot at one of the bungalows next to the beautiful Olifants River in Olifants Rest Camp. This great setting will undoubtedly deliver plenty of wild sightings.
  2. The Melville Guest House in Letaba Rest Camp can sleep up to nine people. It’s a relaxed and comfortable space for a big family or group of friends.
  3. For the traveller in search of luxury, the exclusive Imbali Safari Lodge is situated 45km from the Orpen Gate. Think safaris, afternoon tea and sundowners under a Tsonga-styled thatched roof.

Pictures taken with a Canon 600D EOS and 55-250mm lens.

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