Leopards are one of the most versatile predators in Africa, and have proven on countless occasions that they are the ultimate big cats. Leading a solitary lifestyle, the spotted felines have evolved into strategic hunters that stealthily stalk and ambush their prey. Leopard hunts are often carefully orchestrated, and meticulously planned but sometimes prey is as good as a sitting duck, or in this case, a nested eagle.

Recently in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a leopard was captured on camera snatching a tawny eagle chick from its nest. The hunt was not as simple as it sounds since the big cat had to climb to an incredibly dangerous height to retrieve the hapless chick. The footage from the daring hunt – shot by wildlife enthusiasts Ally Bradfield and her husband – reveals the leopard carefully hopping from branch to branch before finally grabbing the struggling chick from its lofty home.

“On our annual winter Kruger break, we were staying at Satara and took a morning drive down the S41. Just before the Gudzani Dam, we noticed a car had stopped and was looking at a tree about 70m off the road,” Ally Bradfield explained to Latest Sightings. “Slowing down to see what was going on, we saw a large shape moving in the nest at the top of the tree! We also saw a bird of prey dive-bombing the nest, so we grabbed the binoculars and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. A leopard in the nest!”

Leopards are extraordinary climbers, often scaling trees to escape predators, stash kills, and occasionally take a breather from the burning hot African sun. This is unfortunate news for birds like tawny eagles that use the treetops to build their nests. Each year, females of the species will lay one to three eggs in the messy tangle of sticks (and hope that leopards won’t show up in search of an easy meal). Much like leopards, tawny eagles have a diverse diet. Powerful talons and a wide, seventy-two-inch wingspan help them tackle a variety of prey, from mammals like hares and other small mammals, to reptiles such as lizards and fish. Tawny eagles are also well-known practitioners of kleptoparasitism: thieving prey from other predators.

However, even with these spectacular adaptations and versatility, tawny eagles are classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conversation of Nature Red List. This is due to a number of alarming factors, the most apparent being a loss of habitat due to logging, and climate change, which alters their environment. Yet non-profit bird conservation organisation; The Peregrine Fund, believes by combating urgent threats such as the eagles being killed in vehicle collisions while scavenging on roads, or dying from second-hand poisoning when people indiscriminately bait carcasses to eliminate large predators, we could stop this species from being driven toward extinction.

Ultimately, without these creatures, our ecosystems will be thrown into imbalance. For the Bradfields, the sighting was a reminder of the unpredictability and beauty of the natural world: “In 20+ years of visiting the Kruger National every year, I have never witnessed anything like this before. I feel so lucky and privileged to have experienced it, and proud that I managed to capture the moment.”

Top header image: Colin, Flickr