One aspect of nature which profoundly fascinates me is its unpredictability.
On a warm December morning in the Okavango Delta, I happened to come across a young, male, two year old leopard who was moving around his hunting territory. In the wake of his lazy saunter, I followed him to a pool of water where he quenched his thirst in peace. Then aware that the temperature was rapidly rising, he went in search of a relief haven in some upper branches to find shelter from the blazing sun of midday.
In his path to the large tree he ambled near a small hill. I was on the opposite side and passing close to this. Suddenly i could see his head pop up like a periscope. I see the leopard stop and look at me, and not understanding what he had caught the attention of, the feline as close to the jeep on where I was, between me and the leopard, there was only a group of bushes. After a few seconds the leopard had completely changed posture, assuming that of the predator; Body more low to the ground, head tilted forward, mouth closed and eyes wide as two rangefinders focused on the target.
Briskly yet regal, he heads to the bush. I see through the telephoto lens he suddenly changes direction and is facing towards me … although i still do not comprehend what he’s aiming for because all my attention is captured by the magnetism of his gaze; His eyes seem to stare straight into the center of my retina; my heart beats fast, I am still and holding my breath.
Almost behind the shrubs, I see emerge from the shadows, between me and the leopard, something, an animal, which i still cannot identify. This animal, which now has the appearance of a dog, realises at the very last moment to be at the center of the not very friendly attention of the leopard and immediately assumes a defensive posture. The Leopard now snaps, charges and launches the final leap following the escape sketch to the left, makes the prey. Without my realising what exactly occurred, because the action was so fast that I only understood what happened at a later time when reviewing with photos which the D4 had made taking up the action with a “burst” of 11 shots per second, the leopard had missed the target. The prey, that we now recognised as a jackal, with a lighting quick leap flung to the right, as if the sketch done on the left was a fake!
The leopard was totally taken by surprise and stays for a second stunned and disoriented. Both for failing to catch the prey as well as perhaps for discovering that the prey is a female jackal. The jackal is much smaller than the leopard, the relationship between the two animals will be perhaps 1 to 4. However it is an animal that defends itself and therefore can inflict damage.
The jackal has absolutely clear understanding of the risk she is taking, she goes into motion and acts in daring instinct a risky but courageous move. Taking advantage of the catching the Leopard unaware, she pounces and attacks him brandishing her little mouth leopard jaw so he can not bite. The fight lasts a few seconds in which the leopard is able to recover from the surprise and expelled the jackal with his paws.
The Jackal immediately runs away and the leopard rises up, still a bit dazed. And here there was the second surprise. I expected the leopard, recovered and now having a clear picture of the situation, to swoops down on the jackal and tear it to shreds but instead he walked away, dejected. The jackal had dared a bold move to defend his life and that of her cubs who were nearby. The jackal mother, seeing the reaction of the leopard, has begun to bark fiercely and although at a distance, continued to harangue it away from the area.
We continued to follow the leopard, a little tired and also shocked to the fool remedied, until he has finally found. Crouched in the shadow of this great tree he first did some grooming and lick the minor injuries remedied in the tussle, then after carefully having chosen what was the best branch, with a leap of more than three meters, it rose above it and is accommodated to rest.
That December day in Okavango, that mother jackal dared a bold move that saved both their lives and that of her puppy. Who dares wins!