An inexperienced baby impala at South Africa’s Kruger National Park, still too young to know how to choose its friends wisely, ended up befriending a leopard. It struck up a friendship with the deadly beast it chanced upon, after having strayed from its mother.
A more experienced and thus wiser impala would have fled at the first sight of anything yellow, black-spotted, and four-legged. So intense was the panicky haste of a better informed impala to avoid a group of hungry felines at the Kruger park in 2013 that it leaped straight through the open window into a car full of people on safari at the park.
But this little babe, in tragic innocence, chose to hang out with the devil himself, even nuzzling up to its leopard “friend” affectionately.
The bizarre, ill-fated friendship that blossomed between leopard and impala, predator and prey, was caught on camera by game ranger Estiaan Houy, 31, who works with Jock Safari Lodge. He was guiding British and American tourists on safari when he encountered the unconventional interaction in the thick of the African veldt.
The video, titled “Leopard Befriends Impala: Unusual Predator-Prey Interaction Caught on Camera,” was uploaded to YouTube by Barcroft TV. It shows the baby impala moving closer to the leopard, rubbing nuzzles and cuddling the deadly beast.
When the impala decides to go for a walk, the leopard playfully catches up and gently brings it down with its paw as another leopard joins in the fun. The leopard touches the baby impala with its paw and engages briefly in a little rough and tumble.
According to Barcroft TV, the interaction between predator and prey lasted for about an hour before the leopard got bored with the novelty of a “brave” impala unafraid of leopards. It stretched itself, yawned and strolled into the bush. But so enamored was the impala of its spotted friend that it actually followed it into the bush.
Although it is not known how the friendship eventually ended, it is certain that a young impala hanging out with a leopard and its friends would end up as dinner. A veal meal tagging along on legs could only prove convenient when it is time for the leopard’s dinner.
Game ranger Houy, who caught the scene on camera, expressed amazement, saying he had never seen anything like it in his years as a ranger and that he did not expect that he would ever again. But he said he was aware that young leopards sometimes “play” with their prey, due to their lack of experience in hunting and killing.
“In all my years of being a game ranger I have never seen such an encounter, nor do I ever expect to see a repeat of it again. I felt amazed and honored to see such a rare and unexplainable sighting. The impala at no stage showed any signs of distress or fear. Every time the leopard would playfully interact with the baby impala, it would return to the leopard and either sniff its face or push its head against the leopard’s face. A few times the impala would jump away from the leopard and, true to cat form, the leopard would pull it back closer with its claws.
“Although this appears to be play, only the leopard was actually playing and not the impala. The impala rubbed faces with the leopard because it’s a newborn and doesn’t know any better. The leopard could have been waiting for the baby’s mother to return and then kill her.”
Will Fox, a leopard expert with INGWE Leopard Research, only stated the obvious when he commented that the leopard’s friendship with its dinner was sure to be short-lived since it was unlikely that the leopard would suddenly see the light and go vegan.
“The leopard is just doing what leopards do and like many cats, it is playing with its prey. I’ve seen similar things before, when just like a domestic cat, which may bring a mouse home and play with it… this leopard is just playing around before the inevitable.”
“As much as it would be nice to think predator and prey became buddies, the instances of vegetarian leopards are non existent, so the end result is very likely to not have ended well for the impala.”
[Images: Barcroft TV]