Only the most experienced predators succeed in the challenge of porcupine hunting. To breach the prickly defences of Africa’s largest rodent requires a perfectly timed strike and the skill to know when to launch it. This leopard – recently filmed taking on a spiny adversary in the northern reaches of South Africa’s Kruger National Park – has not quite mastered the task yet:

The young cat can be seen shadowing a Cape porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis), tentatively pawing at the rodent’s spines – seemingly unsure of how to break through the spiky protection. Porcupines are armed with a mass of sharp quills that extend across much of their backs. When threatened they will shake their hollow tail spikes creating an intimidating rattling sound. If that fails, the rodents launch a brisk backwards charge; anything in the way gets skewered.

The defence strategy worked for this porcupine, but it’s not a full-proof tactic. Research shows that in most recorded porcupine-vs-leopard altercations, it's typically the felines that come out on top. Although this young leopard failed to land a fatal blow, it showed signs that it may one day master the trick of porcupine hunting – a task that requires clawing underneath the sharp spines or securing the animal's head.

When Ard van de Wetering – the lucky tourist who filmed the footage – left the scene, the porcupine was sitting firm in the middle of the road while the leopard had taken to chasing some nearby antelope. It's unknown if the young cat went back for another attempt at the prickly prey. 

"We have been visiting Kruger at least once a year for the last 30 years or so. In all those years we had some pretty amazing sightings, but this was the first time we have seen this type of interaction," says van de Wetering.

Top header image: Jose Cuadra, Flickr