20 years of obsreving Lepards in the wild and they still leave you stumped, but then again it is difficult to work out the mind of a creature with a 45 million year evolutionary time gap.

The Guests I was driving had been to Djuma on four previouse occassions and were with friends and family, some of which had never seen a leopard in the wild before.
Latish into our afternon drive we went to check on a location where a female leopard called Whitecloth, who has one male cub had an impala kill. Prior to my guests arrival another female known as Karula who has two cubs both male and of similar age to whitecloth's babe. Known as Luangwa and Kafue,"for future reference".
Anyhow this was my plan as for me one of life's pleasure is watching the face of someone who lays eyes on a wild leopard for the fist time in their lives, as I always see a piece of me in that moment of magical bewilderment.
Turns out once we arrived at the location which had been checked earlier in the day and reported to be void of all leopard activity, we found a lone hyena feeding on the remains of the carcas, with
Luangwa sitting up the tree which is a Weeping Wattle for all those budding dendrologists.

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As we moved in to a suitabe viewing position, we noticed the mother lying around about thirty meters away from the hyena munching on her stolen meal. Her other boy kafue was lounging up another tree watching the proceedings a little firther off.

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From what we could make out there didn't seem to be that much left of the carcass
and wth the hyena fing full it soon lost interest in the food and wondered off to the east of us. As soon as she was sure the hyena appeared to be leaving the area the mother got up and went to examine what if anything was left worth feeding on. Once she reached the carcas the hyena now fifty meters or so away looked back and saw the leopard at the carcass and intsinct drove it back to dominate the meal. The mother heard it come running back and confronted the hyena which ended in her slapping the hyena in the face but almost cost her a bite to the knee of her back right leg.

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The lighting for photography was awefull but shot more for the incident than for remarkabe shots.
As soon as the mother took on the heyna, it turned her attack against her and lunged straight for her back leg, which the mother didn't really expect. Which tells me that she has either had better luck with taking on heyna in the past, or shows her lack of experience when dealing with hyena as a more experienced leopard normally uses a hit and escape tacting especially female leopard.
But as I have mentioned earlier it is difficult to speculate on her motives. The cubs were safe, she had stolen the food the heyna had taken it from her and she is a cat with attitude, so might have just thought stuff it she is taking it back, a trait not uncommon in leopard. The hyena definatley unnerved her and sent her flying off in a loud surprised growl.

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Things started to get very interesting from here on. Within a minute anotehr hyena came running in, no doubt drawn in bythe comotion between the mother and they hyena. Thew mother had the sense to take refuge up the same tree as Kafue. Luangwa who had come down to inevstigate the kill with his mother after the hyena had returned had now climbed high into the fork of a Knob Thorn tree one all hell broke loose.
As if this wasn't enough excitment for my guests who had never seen a leopard, now had three scampering around the place, running up and down trees. But is gets better. I then heard on the radio that the origina owner of the kill, Whitecloth was close and heading in this direction with her cub, who is very scared of the vehicles, escpecially when there is more than one.
By this stage most of the hyena have come in investigating and gereeted the first hyena on the scene who was clearly the matriarch of the clan, and moved off barring one sub adult who I had watched grow up.

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At this point whitecloth arrived on the scene, a fourth leopard. Whitecloth is immeadiatley on high alert as she can smell the presence of other leopards and is salivating heavily, a sure sign og high stress in cats and begins to look around her. She spots Luangwa up the Knob Thorn and by now I am starting to think there is going to be a war. But to my amazement she frantically begins calling to Karula's cubs having clearly mistaken him for her babe.

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After about a minute of her calling to the wrong cub the cub begins calling back to whitecloth, the wrong mother. This blew me away for it demonstrates the power of the bond between mother and cub, that they will respond to these contact calls. It could also be due to the fact that there was alot of hyena activity, creating a stressful environment for mothers and cubs, leading to all this confusion and mistaken identities. It blew one of my theories I had on how leopards recognise each other visually, or do they need the back up of scent inorder to complete the recognition process. I had leopard cubs at one stage and during this time we had a dummy cub covered with real loepard fur, my male cub would just see a small piece of this fur and would go into attack mode immediatley. He would know instantly it was not his sister and that it was another leopard, an outsider to be annialated at all costs. Which lead me to think that maybe the patern of the entire animal is a visual que to their recognising one another. But from the incident I am describing I am not so sure any more.
After more inncessant calling from whiteloth, Karulas cub came down his tree and began to approach whitecloth, by now I thought this cub was going to get his butt severly kicked. To our absolute amazement he walked right up to her. His body language was one of absolute uncertainty. It was only when he was about three or four meters from her did he seem to realise that this lady was not his mommy. She to did not show any animosity towards him but seemed to realise that this was not her cub and adopted an ears back attitude. She had gone from the fury of havinbg an intruder in her territory and then plunged into concern over her cub and now seemed to be hovering betwen the two.

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White cloth then began to move towards the tree where Kafue and Luanwga were, saw the two of them up the tree and walked in their direction, I thought we were now going to be witness to a territorial battle, but the reappearance of the young hyena saved the moment and whitecloth began to move off away from their tree.

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It is not easy to see in this shot but if you look carefully at the tree in the background you can see Karula and Kafue with whitcloth in the foreground. Whitecloth now had a cofrontation with the hyena which thankfully was a youngster and not confident enough to harass her. Whitecloth is an old lady and wise enough to call the bluff of the younster. But on the arrival of a secon hyena she beat a hasty retreat, wiser in the knowledge that her cub and her food were not here and left to hook up with him again, which we later heard that she had.

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After all the hyena had left and calm had been restored to both the leopards and us on the vehicle Karula came down and after a comforting rub with her boys, left the area, as did we, with more questions than answers. You can only keep watching, but whether we will ever know anything for certain when it comes to leopard or the bush, is dubious but the journey is no less facsinating.