As far as tough-to-catch prey goes, porcupines are pretty high up on the list. Ambitious predators rarely nab one of these rodents without getting skewered by a quill or two. But that didn't deter a leopard in South Africa's Kruger National Park from trying to gets its claws on some prickly prey.

"At first the leopard was sitting on the side of the road, clearly hungry and scanning the [bush] on the other side of the road," recalls Alison Jacka, who recently filmed the clip south of the park's Tshokwane picnic site. The cat eventually homed in on a pair of porcupines hiding in a drainage tunnel beneath the road.

The rodents were quickly flushed out, and the predator emerged hoping to claim its prize – but a rush of spines is what it got instead as one of the porcupines boldly charged. "It turned around at the last second to face [its] quills at the leopard, who fought back momentarily," says Jacka.

Next, the porcupine bolted back to the safety of the tunnel, with the hungry cat in hot pursuit. After a few minutes of scuffling and snarling, both animals emerged without any visible signs of injury. The porcupine made a run for it, and the leopard gave up the hunt.

The cats usually rely on stealth to ambush unsuspecting prey, but their opportunistic nature means they readily adapt their tactics, with hunts sometimes involving impressive arboreal acrobatics. This cat likely sniffed out the spiky prey and decided to try its luck.

Although evidence suggests the cats probably come out on top in most porcupine-vs-leopard altercations, these encounters are risky for both species. Hunting porcupines is usually reserved for experienced predators that know how to breach the rodents' prickly defences – a feat that requires getting underneath the sharp spines or securing the head. When threatened, porcupines will shake their quills loudly to ward off approaching attackers, and if that doesn't work, they reverse at pace. Anything standing in the way gets stabbed with barbed quills.

For Jacka, the sighting had a happy ending. "It was a most memorable sighting with a much happier ending than what it might have been!"

The hungry leopard might disagree.