During a Kruger Park safari last August 2015 we had an incredible encounter with a young male leopard. One of my best sightings ever, and a scene I have heard of a few times, seen evidence of and on occasion narrowly missed. The age old battle between the leopard and the porcupine!!
When I showed people the video the same question surfaced over and over, when people could see the leopard with quills hanging out of its chest and face. Why do they go after porcupines if they know they are going to get spiked? Search the net and there are quite a few videos showing a very similar scenario, a leopard bleeding and broken, yet continuing to pursue Africa’s largest rodent! Why do they continue?
Well, any cat owner will know that their feline companion cannot resist movement. Whip, flick or scratch something in front of them and their instinct is immediately to go into a stalk and attack. Even just using your fingers to tickle the blanket, they can even see they are attached to your hand, but the urge is too great and they turn into a ‘killing machine’! So perhaps the answer is there. The porcupine is slow and sluggish, but evolution was not that cruel and armed him with a barrier of spears to keep predators at bay. The movement and opportunity is just too much for the predator and he has to give it a go.
On this morning we left our accommodation at Sirheni in the Kruger National Park at first light, 20 minutes in and we came across the young male on the side of the road. I could see he seemed to be in pain (hindsight says he had already encountered the spiny rodent) but I wasn’t sure. Suddenly he entered a hole and I immediately knew what he was up to. Cameras at the ready we got to witness the incredible event unfold, ultimately ending in the young leopard’s failure.
The next possible answer to the question is; it could be that some of the videos online end in success. The leopards that succeed though are almost exclusively fully grown adults, who have clearly through trial and error learnt a specific technique to get past the quills and make the kill. If a leopard does acquire these skills it means that through the porcupine’s nocturnal habits, sluggish movements and behaviour it actually becomes an easy meal. Even in the video you will see this youngster was already learning that if he could just get a paw to the underside of the prey by reaching under and past the quills, he would then be able to flip it over and make the kill. He just isn’t at that level yet. Hopefully for him, his learning curve is sufficient and he succeeds before dying from the stab wounds and or infection!