In animal life in Africa, the baboon is one of the leopard’s best preys. As a matter of fact, the baboon is no match for the leopard in a fight. But it happens occasionally that the baboon has the upper hand – an event which is very seldom seen by mankind. Anyhow, one of these extraordinary triumphs of two baboons over their arch-enemy, the leopard, was seen in broad daylight by the naturalist Eugène Marais in a ravine of the Waterberg in the year 1912.
Today one can can still imagine the event in the Geelhoutkloof in the Entabeni Game Reserve. We don’t know the exact spot, but the whole atmosphere in this beautiful ravine directly gives the feeling – a place of the leopard’s world where he roams among the other animals as the king and the mountain and the many baboons are his subjects.
In one of his books on the life of baboons, Eugène Marais wrote that he with a friend “found themselves at the top of a narrow ravine which ended in a basin of cliffs”. From there they witnessed a troop of baboons displaying very strange behaviour. They were in a state of extreme excitement, and Marais recognised the meaning of shouting: baboons in great panic for a leopard! For its size a baboon has the loudest voice of any animal on earth. They can be heard from as far away as a lion’s roar. The voice from a large group of baboons in great excitement and anger, is deafening and alarming.
Here we find Eugène Marais in his element – the true naturalist who understands from the baboons’ noise that a leopard is in their vicinity. Immediately he looked out where this creature creeps on them high on the rocks of a cliff.
It was, alas, the hour of truth! High on the cliff, just below the troop of excited baboons, a large male leopard was slinking along. Through his binoculars Marais watched the entire drama evolve. Initially, with the leopard along the ledge beneath the baboons there was no way he could attack the baboons on the rocks above it. It was obvious that the animal was making its way to the entrance of a cave where, suddenly, Marais saw two large male baboons (separate from the troop) about 3 metres above the leopard. Their creeping movements were synchronised with those of the leopard: when he moved forward, the two baboons moved exactly the same distance and stopped automatically at the same moment the leopard did. The tension was building.
What followed was for Marais an amazing spectacle. The two baboons launched themselves into the depths below and both of them landed on the leopard’s back. An intesive struggled ensued. The leopard was lying on the back with one baboon caught between the paws, the baboon’s long teeth already in the leopard’s throat. The other baboon grabbed the leopard frm behind and prevented it from using its hind claws.
From the start the outcome of the struggle was clear. The leopard could not use its teeth, while the eye-teeth of the front baboon finished off their work – within seconds there was a motionless leopard under the baboons!
This was not the end of the story. After the leopard was defeated, Marais noticed more “human-like” behaviour from the troop of baboons that had watched the struggle heroes from a distance. When they observed that the leopard was dead, a loud outbreak of great rejoicing, the extreme happiness broke out – the fall of their arch-enemy!