Food for Thought: a Leopard’s Kill


Watching the life’s light leave an impala’s eye was an experience I’m not likely to forget in a hurry.

Death is a subject that we talk about in relation to a lion kill or a leopard kill: a predator’s ownership of prey, and morbidly thrilling or chilling to see in the danse macarbre of shadows that the spotlight casts. An opportunity to see the big cats in their element. Yet, for all the visceral display of gore and guts that attend and evidence the kill, they seem to somehow detract from the act in and of itself – the chaos and carnage just a convenient distraction.

This, however, was quiet and dignified. The slow calm somehow fitting for the raw power and muscular grace of a young female leopard, straining against the bulk and sizeable weight of the impala ram: jaws clamped firmly over struggling muzzle. The blade of grass that balances life and death, predator and prey quivered, and that glimmer of existence that lit the magnificent ram’s eye gradually ebbed until all at once – as though considering a life well lived – it winked into non-existence, no longer lit from within but dully reflecting the spotter’s torch. The tangle of spindly legs went limp and all that remained of the force which fought with every fibre of its being for survival was a few haunches of still warm venison: a lump of meat where a dominant male wrestled just seconds before.

Other than an occasional thud and rustle of the thrashing impala, the whole performance was completely silent: the formidable muscle strength of the leopard maintaining perfect stillness and at least outward calm against increasingly feeble hooved kicks, and the odd, ineffectual toss of head and horns. The deafening quiet was both unnerving and surprisingly peaceful, the heraldry and circumstance of gore replaced with calm dignity.

A casual observer of idly grazing impala might well note a perceived delicacy, especially in comparison to Kudu or other larger gazelle, yet the awkwardly splayed jumble of gleaming horn and limb in stark light and shadow was anything but. The leopard began the awkward business of dragging the carcass further into the gully, away from the prying voyeurism of the spotlight and gawping humans in the vehicle, whose mouths opened and closed like the camera shutters they so furiously clicked. Eventually we left, the jolt of vehicle ignition roaring through a melee of heavy thoughts.

Image and Words: Tara Vivian-Neal

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