The Lion and The Leopard

For those of you who follow Purr and Roar on Facebook you would have seen this post this morning. At first glance I thought it was fake, but turns out to be an unbelievable, legitimate, sighting. If there weren’t the photos to back it up no one would believe it. Article as published in BBC News. Enjoy!

A never before seen sighting of a lioness, called Nosikitok, a mother to her own three cubs born in June, spotted nursing a leopard cub thought to be about the same age as her own cubs.

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Lion expert Dr Luke Hunter told the BBC the images are a once-in-a-lifetime sight– Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

This is unheard of as lions and leopards are natural mortal enemies, most lions will kill leopard cubs if given the chance as a way of eliminating the competition. The lucky person who photographed the pair was Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

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Lion expert Dr Luke Hunter told the BBC the images are a once-in-a-lifetime sight – Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

The lioness is fitted with a GPS collar and is part of the KopeLion project which aims to “to foster human-lion coexistence in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.” Unusual animal pairs are not uncommon but this is something that has baffled and surprised the experts.

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The lioness Nosikitok recently had her second litter of cubs
– Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization which supports Kope Lion, told the BBC the incident was “truly unique”. He also goes on to say that he is not aware of this type of relationship having ever occurred between different species of big cats.

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The local safari lodge says that there is a resident female leopard in the area who they think may have cubs. With luck, the tiny leopard will soon be back with its natural mother – Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

Dr Hunter says that she found the leopard cub not far, about a kilometer, from where here own cubs are hidden. “She’s encountered this little cub, and she’s treated it as her own. She’s awash with maternal hormones, and this fierce, protective drive that all lionesses have – they’re formidable mums.”

They are anxiously awaiting the outcome and, fingers are crossed that this little leopard finds his or her way safely back to mum.

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Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

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Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

Family Tree

Lions are known for many things but climbing trees is generally not considered their best skill, however with a little motivation – for food, to escape danger, catch a cool breeze or escape the nasty tsetse fly, Lions will climb trees. There are two groups of very well-known tree climbing Lions that reside in  Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and the other in Lake Manyara National Park in the Southern part of Tanzania. While the phenomena of tree climbing Lions is not isolated to these two regions and has been seen elsewhere in Africa, it is unclear whether the behavior is learned or innate.

Recently some amazing pictures hit the internet taken by Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow while on a safari in the Moru Kopjes area in the central Serengeti, Tanzania. When I first saw these last week I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to do a little more research to believe the Family Tree of Lions was real. Bobby-Jo Clow hit the jackpot capturing not just one, but a whole pride of big cats in a tree.

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All images taken by Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow

I have to say I am just a little obsessed with these photos. Lions do not have the climbing skills of Leopards, but this group is doing ok. A+ for effort and style!Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

Bobby-Jo Clow writes in Africa Geographic that they were close enough to hear vocal interaction and even snoring. The group was also fortunate to observe breeding behavior and watched a male Lion get blocked by a young Lion when trying to unsuccessfully pursue a female up the tree.

Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

Lions And Cheetahs

I was looking at some pictures taken in the Serengeti on my first trip to Africa. They were shot with a crappy point and shoot camera, no fancy zoom lens, but looking back at them now I don’t think that matters. These were the first big cats I would see in the wild, and also the first images of the big cats that I would take. The moments represented would remain burned into my memory.

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Cheetah mom and 5 cubs trailing along behind her

I remember smiling ear to ear when this Cheetah mom crossed the road in front of our vehicle. I was so excited that I let out a squeal of joy but was quickly and politely told to  be quiet, my safari etiquette vastly improved since then. Mom walked passed us as if we weren’t there and her 5 cubs pranced by, their innocent and curious expression holding all of us captive.

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Collard Lioness on rock

This hazy image is of one of my first Lions. This Lioness sat calmly on a rock turning only once to glance our way revealing a thick brown collar around her neck. She was one cool, regal cat. Although the photo is not ideal, at the time I didn’t care because what I saw was better than what any camera could capture. I remember being intrigued about the collar and wondered if it bothered her as it seemed cumbersome.

Africa has changed much since I first visited, as have my photographs (thankfully). These pictures are a marker of a time when there were no traffic jams in the Serengeti and Cheetah and Lion numbers were seemingly endless.