In South Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve, rangers are used to getting up close with big cats. But every now and again, something new and unexpected unfolds that surprises even them. 

Park rangers Amy Attenborough and James Tyrell were out in the field bright and early recently when they got to witness a little testosterone in action as two dominant male leopards got into a scuffle. The cats, known as the Piva and Inyatini males, had been seen together before, but this was the first time their interactions turned aggressive. 

The two rangers seemed to arrive on the scene during a lull in the action, as the cats were lying apart and growling. But it wasn't long before tensions flared once again. "Before we knew it, they had launched themselves at each other and met in mid-air as a ball of fury, rolling through the air and hitting the ground ... kicking up the wintry dust in a plume around them," writes Attenborough on the Londolozi blog.

Leopards are some of Africa's most elusive big cats, and witnessing a battle like this one is rare. Since fights come with a risk of injury, altercations often fizzle out with just a show of bravado, involving some baring of teeth, growling and squaring off. "Any injury lessens their ability to hunt or protect themselves, which could be fatal for a solitary predator," explains Attenborough. 

This time, however, the two rivals came to blows, and leopard fights can be vicious. "They attempt to tear into each other by gripping their opponent with their front legs and ripping with their back legs. Claws and teeth become exposed and there is a barrage of sounds that goes with it too."

The attack lasted just a few seconds, and in the end, only one of the males was injured – a gash down the back of the leg that appeared only superficial. 

After the fight, the two predators retreated into the bush where the guides couldn’t follow them. Tracks discovered the next day, however, indicated that the fighters parted ways, with the Piva male heading east and his Inyathini rival going west, possibly to regroup and prepare for another round of fighting. 

"I am sure that this is one of many fights to come as these two leopards attempt to push the limits of their boundaries and establish themselves as the most dominant males of [the area]," says Attenborough. "We will just have to wait and see what the next instalment of the saga brings."

This isn't the first time that Londolozi rangers have witnessed a leopard-on-leopard battle. A few years ago, a pair of females was filmed engaging in an epic clash:


Top header image: Colin, Flickr