Wildlife watching in the African bush is often about being in the right place at the right time. Sure you can try to predict and track an animal's movements, but an element of luck always plays a role when chasing that ultimate animal encounter. Field guide Mike Sutherland knows this only too well and he would have been holding thumbs for a thrilling sighting or two when he took his guests out on safari in South Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve recently.

Sutherland was hoping to catch up with a resident leopard known as the Marthly Male, who'd been spotted earlier that day. At the suggestion of his tracker, they headed to a thicket beside a dam where the leopard was last seen. Unsure if the cat would still be there, they parked the safari vehicle beside the watering hole and scanned the surrounding bushes. Nothing. A family of warthogs meandered to the water's edge unconcerned about any lurking dangers and it appeared as though the Marthly Male had moved on.

And then this happened … 

2014 02 18 Warthogs Running From Leopard
This is the moment when one of the warthogs realises there's a leopard a mere ten metres away and alerts the rest of the family.
2014 02 18 Baby Warthogs
The warthog family regroups and starts to panic. At this moment the family has two choices: fight or flight. Considering there are young piglets in the group, sticking around to fight is a risky plan.
2014 02 18 Leopard Stalking Warthogs
The Marthly Male had been lying in the same thicket all day, keeping his senses peeled for an opportunity just like this to present itself. The leopard sticks his head out to get a better view at the warthogs and waits for the perfect moment to launch an attack.
2014 02 18 Leopard Chasing Warthogs
He decides it's now or never and heads off in pursuit of the warthogs.
2014 02 18 Leopard Chasing Warthogs 2
The male leopard runs straight towards Mike Sutherland and his guests, passing the safari vehicle at high speed. At this moment, he's just a couple of metres behind the warthogs.
2014 02 18 Leopard Attacking Warthogs
The cat has locked onto his target: a young piglet. As you can see, all four legs are off the ground (he's practically flying!). There are warthogs, dust and a sense of panic everywhere.
2014 02 18 Leopard Warthog Fight
The adult warthogs suddenly make a brave and bold move. Flight is not working for them, so instead of continuing to run, they turn around and charge straight towards the leopard. This breaks the leopard's focus on the small piglet and sends him running down the bank for cover.
2014 02 18 Leopard Drinking
The unsuccessful chase in the hot sun has cost him lots of energy, so the leopard ambles off towards a puddle of water to quench his thirst before returning to the thicket to rest (and wait for his next opportunity).

Source: Londolozi Blog

Images: Paul Neff