Leopard Cannibalism

I monitor and patrol the Conservation area in West Gate Community Conservancy on a daily basis, recording all sightings of not only predators but wild prey too and even livestock, who at times encroach into this small area in the middle of the conservancy.

A few days ago, during my morning drive, I saw a huge leopard just about to cross the road in front of me. I turned off the engine and waited as the leopard, as most animals in West Gate are, was very nervous. The leopard sat on the road and watched me nervously and it was then that I realized it was actually holding onto something.  It was hard to see what it was but as I tried to get closer the leopard moved off with it.  It was then clear what was being dragged – another leopard.

Male leopard watches me

The leopard dragged the other one across the road holding onto its prey and moved off into the nearby bushes.  It disappeared from sight as it hid in the thick Salvadora bushes on the side of the road.


The leopard dragged its prey and disappeared into the nearby thick bushes

I was confused  -what was going on? Was this a female with her dead young one? Did the lions kill this leopard (3 lions were in the area the previous night) and another leopard found it and was dragging it away? Or did this leopard actually kill this other one?

It became clear that this was indeed a male leopard and not a female one.  A few hours later we returned with the scouts from the conservancy and went into the bushes on foot.  The scouts spotted the dead leopard hidden deep in the Salvadora thicket.  It was a younger male leopard and it had been clearly suffocated by the older leopard.  The killer had eaten a large chunk of the stomach but left the rest.

Remains of the leopard’s prey


The younger leopard had been suffocated

The killer leopard was seen again the following morning in the same area but there were very few remains of the younger dead leopard.

I was and still am pretty shocked.  About a year ago I saw a leopard kill and eat a cheetah in Samburu, but this was the first time I had heard of a leopard killing and eating another leopard.  The reasons are obvious – territoriality, competition.  However, eating it was what shocked me.

The scouts of the conservancy are all intrigued by this occurrence and Stephen, the Head of Security of the conservancy, said “Anything is possible here in West Gate”.

It sure is!

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  1. paula
    Posted January 7, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    What an amazing series of photos Shivani. Incredible – I”m sending this report to some friends who may contact you!

  2. Nilanga
    Posted January 7, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating story, Shiv. Do you think this is taking the whole territorial thing a little further? Is it a warning to other males to stay away? Would a half consumed carcass leave a stronger scent in the vicinity that would deter other rivals? Very interesting.

  3. Carl / London
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Good Morning. Very interesting… could this pattern of animal behaviour be emerging as a result of enforced shrinking habitat/over population/lack of food resources? Baboons and chimp behaviour towards hunting also seem to be changing at a faster rate than the standard evolutionary cycle. It’s proving very tough world out there, even for the predaters at the higher end of the food chain.

  4. sauwah
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    eating own kind is never good for the survival of any species. one stronger leopard’s killing a younger & smaller one is the norm even though it is definitely sad for the younger one who could have been given the leopard population in that area new blood.

    i did read on one occasion where one male leopard in the savuti area actually killed a young/small & new female leopard ; then ate her. now that i really could not understand since this leopard was a female. since she was on her own, she must have been old enough to breed. her inexperience and hunger caused her her very young and brief life.

  5. sauwah
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    i do have a question for you and that is your interest was studying elephants, right? since then have moved onto lions,right?

    i know too well that elephants have received a lot of attention from wildlife researchers, conservation societies and the public ( thanks to the scientists’ work and influence). and because of it, they do receive much benefits through public relation by researchers and conservation societies. other than now polar bear, rhino and tigers, we do not hear much of other species that are more in danger of real extinction like the amur leopard ( numbered around just forty ), certain lynx and other species that i not not mentioning.

    there are only so much public attention, financial donation and compassion from us, how can we be fair to all wildlife that are disappearing under our noses without getting any attention from us and our help at all? i know we all play favoriates in our little lives. but can we afford to do the same with species are truly endangered of disappearing forever?

    i know we are basically selfish and self centered since i am a person who have been donating a lot of my time, energy and money to my local homeless and abandoned cats. even in our animal shelters, people there play favoriates too. since most of them are dog lovers, dogs do get better treatment. naturally adoption of dogs are higher. that is reasonable since dogs are the top dogs in this world run and owned by men ( dogs are men’s best friends?). by one would think animals should be treated fairly by every one who works there. no! a publication by humane society of america did bring this matter up. cats are like black people in america in the sixties; sitting behind the bus!

    so even there are only at most 30,000 lions living wild in africa, we just do not hear the plight of lions becoming extinct at all! and when kenya wanted to list lion as endangered instead of threatened during that cities convention, no support from other countries. let’s not forget the fact that many wealthy people want to kill them for trophies and many more profited by such industry.

  6. Annie
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    ugh……..that is awful!!!!!!! Poor guy..I can’t think of these as being a good thing!

  7. Katherine, NYC
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Are there abundant prey species available in the area for leopard?
    Obviously, the territorial dispute might lead to a fatal confrontation but consuming the vanquished is rare.
    I once saw a female lion eat her own cub that had been killed and left by hyenas. The cub was a newborn and the mother hadn’t had adequate food for some time…this led to her sad decision.

  8. Lisa, California
    Posted January 9, 2009 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Oh, I can’t help but feel sad about this.

  9. Posted January 9, 2009 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    We had an incident of a male leopard attacking a an adult female leopard outside our elephant research camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. The local guide thinks that the male went for her male cub and she defended it. We saw her the next day in a hell of a state with a broken leg, her cubs nowhere to be seen. That night the male returned, killed and ate her. I was shocked as I had not heard of this before, however the guide had seen this once before in Botswan. We work in a wilderness where there are very few humans and so we do not think that this behaviour is human induced.
    Thanks for reporting this unusual sighting.

  10. Posted January 9, 2009 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Whoa. Incredible story and amazing photos!

  11. Posted January 9, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Hello everyone!
    Thanks for all your comments and interest. I am also totally fascinated by this and its good to hear from Kate that she has actually seen this in Botswana too and also what Sauwah read. I’ll try answer your questions as best I can.
    – Paula -definitely, please feel free to let anyone know about the story. I am in and out of telephone network so if they dont get me, please leave a voice mail and I will get back to them.
    – Although this was territorial and possibly a sign for other males to stay away, from speaking with the scouts of the area and others, most of their reactions were “I told you leopards will eat ANYTHING!” Although the story surprised them and they were shocked, everyone agreed in the area that if any animal would do this, it would be a leopard.
    – Prey in West Gate is increasing and the impala numbers have gone up dramatically. This small Conservation Area in West Gate is fascinating. The community scouts are doing a brilliant job at making sure livestock keep away and the results are clear. Wild prey are increasing and lions, leopards and elephants are returning. I doubt lack of food resources of shrinking habitat was the cause of this because of this specific area which has been set aside for wildlife and with numbers on the rise.
    – Sauwah, yes, I used to work with Save the Elephants but then started lion research in 2003 and again in 2007.
    I will write more on the story soon and hope to do a bit of research to see where else this has occurred.
    Any other comments or information on this would be most appreciated.
    Thanks again for your comments,

  12. Otina Kennedy
    Posted January 13, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    This is interesting but turning it into political situation in Kenya. We have turned into man eat man society and soon we will start predating on human flesh – we are not far from this behavior. Poverty, draught and hunger is the reason. While leaders are trading to make huge profit on food that is supposed to be provided to hungry and staving Kenyans

    Good photo work and a very exciting site.


  13. Posted January 14, 2009 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Hi Shivani,
    What a great story! I have personally never witnessed anything like what you have seen. It is incredible what animals are capable of doing.

    Leopards are known to have a catholic diet (with an estimated 100 prey species in Sub-Saharan Africa alone), rivaled by none of the other cat species and apparently leopard forms part of this diet as well. It turns out that cannibalism in leopards has been recorded in a number of publications, the latest of which is by Luke Hunter in CATS OF AFRICA: BEHAVIOUR, ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION published by Struik Publishers (ISBN number: 1 77007 063 X).

    As was speculated earlier, it is possible that the young leopard was probably on his way to establish his own territory when he met his demise. Unfortunately this is the fate faced by most dispersing young adults.

    I very much enjoy reading your blogs and I find the work that you do really fascinating and worth pursuing. Keep up the wonderful work that you do.

    Best wishes,

  14. Ranjeet Singh Mahla
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I am trying to prove cannibalism on DNA base may you provide the orignal photo on heigher resolution I will be very grateful to you thanking you

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] Still in Kenya, a bizarre occurrence has been reported in Samburu where a leopard preyed on another leopard. This case of cannibalism is indeed shocking. Cannibalism among mammals is reported occasionally but it commonly involves killing and eating of young (infanticide) by male animals to eliminate competition. The Ewaso Lions blog describes this incidence here. […]

  2. By Ewaso Lions » Research on Leopard Cannibalism on January 12, 2009 at 11:54 am

    […] Thanks to everyone for your comments on my last blog on leopard cannibalism! […]

  3. […] Over the past few months I have been delighted to record lions, leopard (this is where we saw leopard cannibalism), hyenas and even a […]

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