Nature is amazing. It has glaciers and rainbows and hummingbirds and horrible venomous monsterfish called stargazers that look like this:
Because, yeah. That’s the other thing about nature: It’s a never-ending cycle of carnage and brutality and claws and teeth punctuated by desperate wails and constant death. Like, so much death.
But there’s love too. Or something very much like it. You see it in whales and elephants and dogs, and birds who mate for life, and fish too. A tenderness of some sort and a spectrum of whatever we might call ‘feeling’ that exists quite apart from, or at least as a distinct complement to, the prime directive of survival and inter-generational DNA transmission. One of the most striking examples of that feeling is the mothering instinct, which manifests itself in protection, care, and guidance. Naturally the mothering instinct is just a sub-category of the generic parenting instinct, and there are numerous examples of both animal parents providing that role, but it is also the case that a great many animals end up being raised solely by the mother rather than by the father, or by both together. (And then there are plenty of examples of the mother just abandoning her young quite early on, or not treating them too good—snakes, harp seals, and the less said about the shoebill the better. But that’s nature for you. There are examples of literally everything. But for this post let’s just stick with the protective mother thing.)
The leopard is a big cat species found in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, India, China, and Central Asia. It is similar to the jaguar found in the Americas, though it is generally of a lighter frame. That lighter frame allows the leopard to be supremely comfortable in trees, and it is an ambush predator that often hunts by pouncing on its prey from the branches above. Female leopards are also known to keep their cubs in trees for safety while they go off and hunt. As is the case with many big cat species, one of the leading causes of death of leopard cubs is adults males. The males—which are significantly larger than the females—seek to continue their genetic line while eradicating rival ones.
That, then, is the context for one of the most incredible displays of the protective maternal instinct that I’ve ever seen. Watch how this male climbs a tree to attack a cub, only for the female to come charging out of nowhere to try save her progeny:
There is no hesitation there. None. That big murderous tank of a male leaps up the tree, fangs bared, ready to kill, and without even a second’s pause the mother goes flying up after it. She knows she likely leaps to her death. A male can dispatch her easily. Yet she just goes. Claws out, she springs up the tree and in three impossible vertical bounds she just grabs the big brute and tackles him off, falling several metres to the floor, backwards, with a murder machine on top of her. It’s incredible.
What’s also quite amazing is that there is a website that tells us how this story ended. The Leopards of Londolozi is a site that keeps track of the known leopards in this particular nature reserve. I just love that. It’s got names and ages and birthdays and little bios and everything for them! Anyway, that particular display of motherly valour up there was by a leopard called Ravenscourt Female. As the site says in her bio:
The Ravenscourt female established territory to the west of Londolozi, quickly becoming the mainstay of the leopard viewing on our neighbour, Singita’s, property.
She was famous for denning her cubs in or around the rooms at Boulders Lodge, forcing the lodge to close a particular room while she was using it to stash her cubs.
She was killed in a dramatic fight with the Nyelethi 4:3 male in 2014, in which she defended her surviving cub from his attack in the branches of a leadwood tree. Racing up the trunk, she leaped outwards, tackling the Nyelethi male out of the fork, and the two plummeted to the ground. In the ensuing scuffle, she was bitten on the back of the neck and died instantly.
This is the only kind of bio I ever wanna read from now on. Forget people. This is the good stuff right here.
And the kicker?
Her cub survived, and established territory on Singita where he is known as the Ravenscout male.
Header Image Source: Getty Images