Photographer Captures Leopard Eating Crocodile in Tree

Years of traveling the plains of the Mara have etched countless wildlife encounters into my memory. From the heart-stopping chase of a cheetah to the tender moments in prides of lions.

None however compare to the recent sighting that left me speechless: a grizzled leopard, his age etched in every whisker, balanced precariously in a tree, his prize, a lifeless crocodile. A sheer testament to an extraordinary feat of nature. It was a moment that transcended mere observation and entered the unexpected twists of the wild.

Earlier I had sat at my computer in the Angama photographic studio when a guide came running in and said there was a sighting of a leopard with a possible snake. Later he sent out that he had inspected and it turned out to be a crocodile.

The next day, I drove towards the same area and noticed something hanging from the tree, which was the tail of the crocodile. I waited for hours hoping that the leopard would go back to its reward. Eventually he did and I was able to get some photos. I have never heard of this occurring in Kenya, there are places around the world such as South Africa or maybe Jaguars in South America where this has been recorded and photographed.

The male that has been photographed is named Shujaa, which means hero in Swahili. He is estimated to be about 14 years old, making him quite senior, with most leopards living for 12-15 years in the wild. He was spotted in the Maji ma Chafu area which is well within his territory. His longevity suggests successful hunting starches and adaptability as suggested with this crocodile kill. His dense markings (which resemble a jaguar due to his rosettes) and his eye (which was injured, possibly by another leopard) are some of his distinguishable features.

I watched as he ate the remaining parts of the crocodile and pieces fell into the tall grass. If you look closely you could tell that there was a wound near the tip of the tail of the leopard, likely from a confrontation with the crocodile. From the size of the tail of the crocodile, you can tell it was fairly large. Then what only remained was the thick scaly tail of the crocodile until the last piece fell and it was gone. Shujaa came down the tree and disappeared into the grass. As I drove away I could hardly contain my excitement from the behavior I had just witnessed.

This wasn’t your typical Savannah showdown. Leopards, while agile climbers, rarely hunt reptiles, and crocodiles, masters of aquatic ambush, are seldom found out of their watery domain. Both leopards and crocodiles are apex predators and there have been documented cases of leopards killing crocodile hatchlings, and crocodiles taking down young leopards that come too close to the water’s edge.

About the author: Born and raised in Nairobi to Egyptian parents, Andrew Andrawes spent 15 years in the United States before returning to Kenya to live in the remote Mara Triangle for the last 2 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology and African Studies from the University of Virginia, and a post-bacc from San Francisco Art Institute, and an MFA in photography from San Jose State University, where he has also worked, along with in various other studios and camera shops.

Image credits: Photographs by Andrew Andrawes