Leopards are experts in the art of silent stalking. To successfully secure a meal, they must creep undetected to within striking distance of their prey. But what happens when a leopard is the one being stalked ...

Biologist and freelance safari guide Valentin Lavis filmed this rarely witnessed interaction between a leopard and a lion while in Namibia's Etosha National Park recently. Lavis was guiding a pair of guests on a game drive through the reserve and decided to visit a waterhole in the late afternoon in the hopes of catching a glimpse of something special. As they approached, the unmistakable outline of a cat came into view – a lone lioness was sitting in the open on a ridge just above the waterhole.

Lavis soon spotted a second feline quenching its thirst, only this one was too small to be another lion. A female leopard had sauntered onto the scene and she approached the water completely unaware that a lioness was watching her from a vantage point on the ridgeline. 

“I quickly positioned the 4x4 to provide a good visual for my guests and waited for the confrontation to happen," Lavis told Latest Sightings. The lioness sunk her body to the ground and, with a look of determination characteristic of big cats, she slinked closer to her rival. 

In a lion-leopard showdown, the larger species has a clear advantage. Even the biggest leopards (which this female certainly is not) are at least 20 kilograms shy of the smallest lions. So when leopards encounter their tawny adversaries, their first instinct is to flee, usually into the safety of the treetops where adult lions are unlikely to pursue them.

And that's exactly what this cat did. "For a moment, the two stared at each other and the lioness launched as the leopardess turned and speedily ran off into the thicket," Lavis explains. Luckily for the leopard, she spotted the stalking lioness with enough time to enact an escape (watch for that moment when the leopard realises she's not alone and her ears flatten instantly!).

In some areas, lions are responsible for as much as 20% of all leopard mortalities, so avoidance is important for the rosetted cats. For the most part, the two species coexist peacefully: leopards usually target small- to medium-sized prey, while lions opt for more sizeable quarry like adult buffaloes. When they do clash, however, it's the larger cats that almost always come out on top.

Top header image: Mihael Hercog/Flickr