By Taniya Dutta
This is the hair-raising moment a leopard cub hides in a tree as it is stalked by a lioness – while its helpless mother lurks in the bushes.
The intense standoff between the wild cats took place moments after the lioness and her cubs chased the leopards away from feeding on a dead baby giraffe.
Throughout the photo sequence, the mother leopard kept a vigil at her cub’s side from a distance.
But luckily, the ending was happy as the cub managed to stay in the tree for safety before coming down and joining her after the lions left.
Mike Sutherland, 31, took the intense video and pictures at Londolozi Game Reserve, Sabi Sands which is to the west of the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Mike said: “It began with a female leopard and her two cubs that we had found the night before, feeding on a dead baby giraffe.
“We left them for the night and decided to return in the morning.
“When we arrived we noticed lots of lion tracks leading to the scene and when we got to the kill, the lions had taken over the kill and were feeding.
“The lion pride consisted of three adult lionesses and four small cubs.
“We soon realised the lions had chased the leopard family off the kill during the night and during the process, one of the leopard cubs was killed.”
Mike, who has been documenting inspiring images of wildlife for over eight years, witnessed the encounter after sitting for three hours in rain.
He said: “We sat there for at least three hours that morning in the rain, but the encounter would have gone on for most of the night and into the morning.
“We had found the giraffe kill the night before where the leopards were feeding and in the morning we planned to return to follow up on the story.
“Before arriving we noticed all the lions tracks and immediately knew there had been an incident during the night between the lions and the leopard.”
When Mike reached the spot, he saw a leopardess staring into a large tree above her where her small cub was hiding.
He said: “The other leopard cub had climbed a tree nearby and the mother was lurking in the distance.
“We noticed the leopard mother looking on from a distance and drove toward her.
“The little cub decided it was time to come down and join its mother and get to safety.
“But when it began to descend the tree the lions ran toward the tree and the leopard cub decided to change its plan and had to hold on for dear life.
“The other managed to stay in the tree for safety and when the lions left, it came down and joined its mother.”
Mike said the incident left him devastated as he had seen the two cubs as young as three weeks old after previously visiting the park.
He added: “This particular event will forever be etched into my mind.
“I had watched these two young leopards grow up and first saw them when they were only three weeks old so to arrive and learn that one and been killed was a devastating.
“But it is the way of the wild and it is nature’s plan as only the strongest survive.”