A showdown between two of Kruger’s large spotted cats is an unforgettable sight. When power meets speed, and stealth triggers explosion, who knows what may happen? Thokozani Phakathi describes what went down when a leopard decided to stalk a cheetah.

In one of my Kruger National Park excursions, I spotted a big male leopard patrolling and scent marking its territory. The spotted cat was heading east on the H1-1 main road, just east of Pretoriuskop.

Unexpectedly, a male cheetah was heading west in the same vicinity. It was also scent marking the area, but with a frantic distress call. It appeared to be calling a missing family member or perhaps it had been kicked out of a coalition.

The leopard immediately started stalking the cheetah, tip-toeing and crouching down. Eventually it positioned itself at the exact spot where the cheetah would pass, using a tree trunk as a screen. The unsuspecting cheetah was walking straight into the powerful claws and jaws of the ambushing leopard. It was a blood-curdling and exhilarating moment – what would happen during this fierce encounter?

Leopard in stalk mode

Upon spotting the cheetah, the leopard went into stalk mode. Pictures by Thokozani Phakathi

Leopard in ambush

The master of camouflage hid behind a tree, ready to ambush the cheetah.

A struggle between two rivals

I was feeling sad for the cheetah, but even in that moment of despair, I realised that nature remains true to itself always. Driven by instinct, a predator executes the laws of nature effectively without fail, fear or mercy. I was then at peace with the fact that whatever happened would be in line with Mother Nature’s will. These rival predators will always compete for space, food and other precious resources.

Just as the cheetah was a few metres away, the leopard pounced for a deadly strike. The cheetah jolted with shock but accelerated and ran for dear life.

leopard launches attack

As the cheetah passed by, the leopard launched its attack.

Cheetah accelerates

The cheetah rapidly accelerated to escape its hunter.

 

At some point only the cheetah’s tail separated the two cats, but the fastest mammal on land seized the moment to live up to its title. It dashed off and escaped without injury, outsprinting its hefty fellow predator. After the episode, which lasted less than 30 seconds, the cheetah was so shaken it was trembling like a leaf. It even jumped in fear whenever tree branches came into contact with its legs or tail.

The sighting of a lifetime

This is an unforgettable encounter that I will cherish for as long as my mind, heart, body and soul are together. Seeing and capturing these two formidable predators in one frame was the most special moment of my being. It’s a rare sighting I might never again see in my lifetime. Such moments make Kruger National Park a very special place. It’s a paradise on earth that encapsulates the essence of pure African beauty and diverse wildlife.