On one of our recent safaris in Kruger National Park, our head guide, Simon Vegter, managed to capture some incredible footage. The lucky guests who accompanied him on this trip were treated to some unbelievable wildlife action!

Leopard escapes with her life ... but not her kill!

The morning game drive started calmly enough, as they stopped to watch the antics of some Impala rams showing off their prowess and good looks to the herd while coming down to drink at the De Laporte waterhole, in the southern part of South Africa's Kruger National Park. Obviously, the Impala was blissfully unaware of the leopard keenly watching their movements – a situation which the group in the open safari vehicle were closely watching, in turn.

For over an hour, they sat patiently, watching and waiting for the almost inevitable … and then it happened. While the other impalas were chasing each other around, a single ram strutted out towards the water and the leopard sprang into action, making a spectacular kill in the waterhole itself.

What the safari group didn’t realise was that there was a pride of lion nearby who happened to hear the fuss and impala’s distress calls. A pair of lionesses snuck up quietly on the action and gave the leopard an almighty fright! Almost turning around in its skin, the leopard hastily beat a retreat and scampered away, lucky to escape with its life.

The lions seemed to be reluctant to get their feet wet, at one point looking in the direction where the leopard had disappeared off to as if to silently question why it hadn’t had the decency to remove the kill from the water for them?

Gingerly, one finally managed to put a paw in the water, grab the Impala by the horn and pull it from the waterhole, after which the pride settled down to enjoy their freebie meal.

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Free lunch for lucky lions

What the video clearly goes to show is the enormous size difference between these fierce hunters. As arch enemies and fierce competitors, they’re seldom seen together – and little wonder that the leopard took off at high speed, also demonstrating its superb speed and agility that makes it such a formidable predator. All too often, a lion will kill any leopard that crosses its path. In this case, it was probably the water the saved the leopard from certain death. The lions were hesitant to enter the water, and that gave the leopard the chance to escape.

Altogether, it was a truly memorable sight, for our guide and guests alike … and another reminder that you never know what to expect, or what may be hiding around the next corner, when out on a game drive on a Kruger National Park safari in South Africa.

Some Quick Facts about Differences between Lion and Leopard

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Leopard lounging in tree

  • Leopard and lion reach different sizes in different areas - Cape leopards and East African lion are much smaller than their Kruger Park brothers and sisters
  • In Greater Kruger, male leopards weigh between 45 – 90 kg (a recorded male weighed in at 97 kg!). Lions average around 190 kg (418 lb) – more than double!
  • Females leopards are generally smaller, weighing between 30 – 60 kg whereas lionesses can weigh up to 125 kg (280 lb), twice their size!
  • While both lion and leopard are spotted at birth (of course, leopards much more so), the lion’s spots usually fade by the time they are two years of age
  • Leopards are solitary as adults, only staying together briefly for mating whereas lions are highly affectionate and social animals that live in pride of up to 20 members or more.
  • Leopards are incredibly strong, undoubtedly the strongest of the big cats, pound for pound. They are agile climbers and often hoist their kills into trees to keep them out of the reach of lion and hyena
  • Lion is not traditionally climbers – except in a few rare locations where tree-climbing skills seem to be passed on from generation to generation. They are nowhere near as agile as leopard though.
Vurhami Tree Lion

Vurhami "Tree lion", Kruger National Park

  • Leopards are the most elusive and shy of the big cats, easily camouflaged and difficult to ‘spot’ in the wild. Lion is far more overt and relaxed, often seen lounging around beneath shady trees in broad daylight. Leopards are usually more nocturnal by nature.
  • In the Kruger National Park, you are more likely to see lions than the elusive leopard. However, in the adjacent Sabi Sand Game Reserve, your chances are much better, and finding at least one leopard during an average two-night stay is almost guaranteed. This is due to the high density of leopards in the Sabi Sand area, but also because the trackers can go off-road and track the animals, which is not permitted in Kruger itself. Both lions and leopards are apex predators and it is a wonderful privilege to be able to see them in the wild.

Have you ever witnessed a lion vs. leopard encounter? Please tell us about it in the comments below.


About the author


A 'word smith' or copywriter with over 25 years experience, love travelling, wildlife and conservation; fascinated by alternative energy, alternative building and alternative health. Consummate reader and traveller, both internationally and southern Africa. Have two remarkable daughters that continue to amaze and teach me daily. Consider myself privileged to live on the best continent on the planet.