Stories: Hug of Death

Hug of Death

By Chaitanya Vattem

Chaitanya Vattem is a software engineer by profession and an awesome wildlife photographer by passion.

“Hug of Death”, this is the title that comes to my mind when I see the images of this epic hunt that we witnessed at Masai Mara, Kenya.

It was late evening and we were waiting for the wild cats to wake up, hoping to see some action. Little did we know what was in store.

While we were enjoying the scenes of a small pride of lions, our driver’s walkie- talkie buzzed and he exclaimed “Leopard time”! Upon reaching the spot we saw that there were a lot of vehicles lined-up to catch the big show.

Stealthily walking into the bushes and crossing a stream was a young leopardess, aged about 3years, named “Luluka”. Capturing the scenes of jungle is all about timing and you end up missing a lot if you don’t keep up down to the last seconds. So, to stay abreast of the action, our driver made a daring crossing to the other side of the stream. He told us that there is an Impala around and she might be stalking it. Although, it isn’t easy for a young leopardess to bring down a full- grown Impala on its own.

We were still looking around and from out of nowhere she lunged on and clung to the neck of an Impala. The whole scene was unfolding about 20ft away from our jeep while we stood there recovering from a state of shock.

The Impala was struggling to stay on its feet, kicking away Luluka, who focused all her might on choking the Impala to death. Luluka used her tail to balance and coil the legs of the Impala to block all movement. The Impala collapsed within minutes giving her a firmer grip on the prey’s throat. Now, it was a matter of few seconds before Luluka claimed her meal for the next few days.

Luluka took time to catch her breath and rejoice by playing around and licking the Impala. Finally, she decided on the softest part of the prey: the testicular area, as her entrée of the meal.

A few notes from the hunt to be observed in the photos:
1. The setting: proximity of the jeep.

The jeep, visible in one of the photos shows how Luluka held-on to her prey despite how close the jeep is to her.

2. Hunt strategy: position of rear legs of Luluka.

If you look closely, the rear legs of Luluka are on the hind legs of the Impala in order to exert her whole weight to bring down the prey.

3. The balance: usage of tail.

Luluka used her tail along to gain balance during the hug of death around the Impala.

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