Tourists visiting India's Sariska Tiger Reserve got the sighting of a lifetime recently when one of the park's striped cats dispatched a spotted rival right beside their safari vehicle. 

After a brief tussle in the undergrowth, a tiger – known to local researchers as ST-3 – can be seen carrying a leopard’s carcass in its mouth as it crosses the road. The leopard's small size suggests it's a sub-adult.

Tourist Abhimanyu Singh Rajvi, who captured the rare event on camera, told the Hindustan Times that the larger predator climbed up into a nearby tree in pursuit of the leopard, and then killed the much smaller cat "within minutes" after it fell to the ground. 

The most likely reason for the fatal skirmish is competition between rival carnivores. "Tigers are apex predators that generally wouldn't tolerate other big cats. The two species will avoid each other as much as they can, but when they happen to cross paths, it's likely the larger species would kill the other," says large carnivore ecologist and leopard researcher Dinal J. S Samarasinghe. "Tigers have been known to kill other predators too, including bears."

It's unlikely that the tiger would have eaten its unusual kill, adds Samarasinghe.

The Sariska reserve is part of India's Project Tiger, an initiative launched by the government in the 1970s to protect Bengal tigers in their natural habitat. The wildlife refuge, which spans an area of around 900 square kilometres, lost all of its tigers to poaching about a decade ago. 

The striped cats made their return in 2008 as part of a relocation programme, and today, 13 tigers roam the reserve, including four cubs, two males and seven females. The female in the video, ST-3, was one of a pair of tigers relocated here in 2009.

Despite the arrival of several cub litters in recent years, the tigers' return to Sariska has not been without setbacks and some controversy. Slow breeding rates and conflicts with local villagers are problems that conservationists are still working to address. 


Top header image: Jussi Mononen, Flickr