Lions may lack the tree-climbing agility of some of their big-cat cousins, but you can bet they'll clamber into the branches if there's a potential meal up for grabs. On a recent game drive in South Africa's Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, head safari guide FJ Mammes and his guests encountered a heart-racing scuffle between a lioness and an unfortunate leopard that was forced to relinquish its kill. Luckily for the leopard, just when it looked like the spotted cat might be in serious trouble, a herd of elephants charged in to investigate the commotion.

Footage of the startling sighting was recently uploaded to the Latest Sightings YouTube channel and website where Mammes recounted the tale: "We had been tracking a cheetah for some time, following tracks in the sand. When a call came through on the radio that a male leopard had just been spotted ... We immediately aborted our cheetah tracking and headed in the direction of the leopard."

Fresh reports came in that the leopard had successfully brought down an impala, but before Mammes and his guests arrived on the scene they encountered two lionesses that appeared to be heading in the same direction as them. It's likely that the lionesses had picked up on the distress calls of the impala and moved in to secure an easy meal. Although lions are admired for their hunting prowess, they will readily use their brawn to steal carcasses from smaller rivals if the opportunity presents itself. 

When Mammes finally caught up with the leopard, the big cat had already hauled its kill into a tree in the hopes of protecting it from any would-be thieves. It's a strategy commonly employed by leopards, particularly in areas where competition for food is rife. The tactic is effective against non-climbing carnivores like hyenas, but lions are armed with retractable claws and will scamper into the treetops if the reward is worth it.

One of the lionesses did exactly that, resulting in a snarling tussle with the leopard that sent the carcass plummeting to the ground in the ensuing chaos. The second lioness hastily claimed it, while the other big cats continued to battle in the boughs. It's not uncommon for lions to kill leopards either in an effort to reduce competition for prey or simply because they see them as a threat and possibly a potential meal. The lioness seemed determined to get at her rival, but luckily for the leopard, a herd of elephants were drawn to the scene forcing the lioness to retreat.

Although lions do not pose a significant threat to adult elephants, they have been known to target smaller or weaker herd members, so elephants often proactively chase the cats off. "The elephants continued their pursuit of the lioness, which gave the leopard a window to escape and he, too, jumped out of the tree and ran off, leaving us in awe of what had just transpired," Mammes recalled.