The Lurking Leopards – Article by Gareth Jones
The Story Of The Lurking Leopards – Written by Gareth Jones
It was early morning on a crisply cold day in September 2014. I decided to change my normal route and drove past the Kingfisher picnic site, and soon came across the freshly killed carcass of the Kongoni (Cokes Hartebeest), however I could not see anything, everything was just too quiet, so there had to be a predator nearby. Eventually I drove slowly away disappointed at not seeing what killed the Kongoni, but then after about 1km I had an unexplainable very strong urge to turn around and go back to the kill, and the thought that it was a leopard came to my mind.
However when I arrived back at the kill, again there was no predator in sight, and a few crows were starting to gather. I switched off the vehicle and said to myself “just wait 5 minutes, and if nothing comes then I will go.“ On my left I could see much game on the plains, a large buffalo bull approached and walked behind my vehicle. So I said to myself, I would just let the buffalo pass, and then go. Well the buffalo walked past me and went behind some bushes, then I turned and looked at the kill again, and suddenly there it was, a magnificent leopard!!!….I sat very still in the hope that it would behave naturally and come to the kill, after a short time my patience was rewarded and the leopard came quite close. I managed to take a few photos of the leopard snarling as the crows were being very irritating by approaching the kill and also “dive bombing” the leopard.
I was also extremely surprised to see that a leopard had killed a Kongoni (Cokes Hartebeest), it seems to me that the kill happened at night, and also it is possible that the Kongoni had an injury to the leg, or something to weaken it? If this leopard did however kill a healthy Kongoni then that is really incredible!!! I watched as the leopard showed immense power by dragging the Kongoni a short distance, just after I heard a hyena whooping nearby. The leopard also made futile effort to cover the large carcass with dry grass and loose twigs, as if realizing that this prey was very heavy, and could not be pulled up a tree, or hidden easily. Naturally the leopard was concerned that this feast could be taken by other predators like lions and hyenas. Eventually the leopard had also chased away the crows and relaxed enough to begin eating its well deserved meal. It should be noted that leopards are actually the most powerful of the big cats if their strength is compared to their weight. A leopard can lift a carcass weight of about twice its body weight up a tree. Late that afternoon I returned to the same place and found that the entire Kongoni kill was gone. I doubt that this leopard took it and dragged it far, my theory is that perhaps a large male lion found it and claimed it, and dragged the carcass into the valley to enjoy in peace and quiet.
In February this year we received a social media text that a leopard was seen eating on the carcass of a dead rhino in the Sosian valley. I decided to drive down there with the possibility of maybe seeing this leopard. However as with many leopard sightings, it requires quite a bit of patience to wait until the leopard reveals itself. Well we sat quietly for almost four hours, until eventually a troop of baboons moved across the hillside above us. Suddenly there was much chaos as large male baboons called loudly and ran towards a large shrub, just then a small leopard emerged and ran away from the baboons. We continued to wait a short while before a larger mature leopard walked down the same hillside and began to feast on the dead rhino. For the record, this particular rhino had died naturally of old age. This was the first time ever that we had seen a large predator feasting on a rare species like a black rhino.
Indeed Leopards are a rare sighting in the Nairobi park, and are not often seen in the daytime as they are mostly nocturnal. I have personally been on over 4500 drives through the Nairobi National Park and have only had 11 leopard sightings. Various reports estimate their numbers vary from 10 to 20 individuals, however it is difficult to estimate as they are so secretive and elusive by nature, and they move in and out of the park boundaries. It is not very long ago that residents of Langata and Karen Estates told stories of lurking leopards on their properties, they are known to even live relatively close to human habitation for some time remaining undetected. However sadly the occasional leopard does stray into the city, and I clearly remember an incident in 2002 when a leopard strayed into a home in Kilimani area and had to be shot.
In recent months there have been a number of leopard sightings in the park, including a few sightings of a mating pair in the Langata forest below the Impala viewpoint. We hope that this will result in cubs being born in the near future to help ensure the future of the Nairobi leopards. I often ask God to show me the glory of creation. So my attitude is to just enjoy everything, especially rare sightings like leopards. We pray leopards will continue to survive and even thrive in the Nairobi National Park and surrounding area.
The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.