The calculated ambush, the well-timed pounce, the effortless hoisting of prey into a tree – among Africa's big cats, those are the unmistakable hunting tactics of the leopard. But even the experts get it wrong sometimes.
This predatory mishap was caught on camera in South Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve – and the falling feline is a cat of some pedigree. Known to local guides as the "Anderson" male, the elusive animal is one of the largest known leopards in the region.
Londolozi guides and a group of guests had been attempting to track down the impressive male for a number of days when a set of supersized pugmarks finally led them to their target. And their lucky sighting was about to get even luckier: the leopard had just killed an impala ewe and her lamb.
As the leopard grabbed its meal and began to climb, the group expected to see a show of arboreal agility – but what came next was a little less than elegant. "The male dragged the carcass to a nearby marula tree and attempted to hoist it into the upper reaches. However, just before he reached the top, he lost his footing and plummeted from the tree down to the ground," recalls Londolozi guide
Leopards are known for eating in the treetops, where food-stealing rivals like hyenas and lions can't get to them (most of the time, anyway), and they're capable of hoisting up prey two to three times their own weight. But even powerful leopards like the Anderson male sometimes put a paw wrong.
Despite the mishap, however, this cat was ready to dust itself off and try again. "He landed with a large thud and I was convinced that he had hurt himself. I was in disbelief when he got back up, growled in annoyance, and then hoisted the carcass back up into the tree, successfully this time," says D'Araujo.
Top header image: Colin the Scot, Flickr