Steve Hulbert
Odumetse Modikwa  – “Odi”


The story of Moltopi – the most beautiful young female Leopard – you’ve ever seen!

“Moltopi” is the daughter of “Bosbia” – Moltopi also had a brother – he had recently been killed by Baboons.  Upon reaching the age of two-years-old Moltopi had separated from her mother – which is natural for Leopards – for they are strictly solitary animals.  Losing her son made Bosbia very sad - she was so moved by his death that Bosbia did something very rare for Leopards – she started to reunite with her daughter – Moltopi.  Bosbia did this by inviting Moltopi to share in her kills and eat together – Moltopi started to do the same – they would stay together for a few days then split up again to hunt separately.  This was a very special relationship in the animal world – especially for Leopards.  They were a unique mother and daughter.

It was a cool – beautiful – blue sky morning – on the banks of the Linyanti River in the Okavango Delta of Botswana – a mother Fish Eagle had coaxed her two baby eaglets out of their nest for the first time – high in the branches of the Morani trees – she was perched – watching her two babies – flap and flutter – from tree to tree – making their way – experiencing flight for the first time.  It was a wondrous sight – Fish Eaglets learning to fly!  As all this commotion took place – a beautiful female Leopard raised her head from a deep sleep – hidden in the branches of a Mopane tree – she slowly rose and scanned the landscape.  Moltopi was her name – she quickly jumped from branch to branch down the tree – to the ground – like a sleek stealth ghost – she launched into another tree just a few yards away – she shot up like a rocket – up – up - up – bouncing branch to branch – what’s she doing?  Leopards are supposed to sleep during the day?  Higher and higher she danced – why? Where was she going?  Then without warning – from out of the shadows – the mother Fish Eagle came soaring in with talons flashing – straight at Moltopi – KAKAKA – screaming – whistling – she glanced at Moltopi’s side and flew away – again and again, KAKAKA!  Whooshing – dive bombing – attacking Moltopi – without a flinch Moltopi climbed higher and higher.  The attacks continued – until Moltopi – finally got to her destination – the nest!  It was huge – at least four feet wide and three feet high – it was the nest of the eaglets and their mother.
Moltopi reached up and peered over the lip of the nest – there was no one home – what a lucky day –  they were out learning to fly!  Moltopi slowly came down the tree with nothing to eat – picked her a branch – slowly laid down – closed her eyes – went to sleep once more – until night came – her time to hunt.

Late in the afternoon that day – as Moltopi slept in the branch of an African Mangosteen tree – resting in the shade – she waited for the sun to go down – so she could go hunt in the darkness of night. A troop of 30-40 Baboons were far - far off in the distance and were approaching slowly – they were heading in her direction.  The Baboons – were rolling and tumbling – cleaning each other – picking the seeds off the ground - playing as the Baboons – always do.  As Moltopi lay camouflaged in the tree – she dreamed of her mother and brother – the Baboons passed off to her left – but it being such a large troop – they spread out like a giant wave.  Then out of the clear silence came a huge roar – a scream alert – rang out like a piercing shot – all the Baboons start screaming – louder and louder – HOHOHO – HOHOHO – YAYAYAK.  Moltopi awakes from her slumber to the horror of looking down on thirty Baboons surrounding her tree!  Running – screaming – circling – they start to climb up towards Moltopi. She shakes herself from her sleep – springs to her feet – bounding up – up - up – up to the top branches of the tree – like lightning – higher and higher – out to the thinnest branch – the smallest branch that would support her!  It was unbelievable – the sound – HOHOHO – HOHOHO – YAYAYAK – the attack – the Baboons jumping throughout the tree – shaking and screaming – going closer - closer to Moltopi – they were trying to surround her.  She’s frozen – trapped – what will happen next. A few large female Baboons approach to attack – but she swipes at them with her paw - again and again – they stop – they freeze – it’s a standoff.  For over an hour Moltopi and the Baboons are at a frozen showdown.  Moltopi’s only hope is to wait out the Baboons who must return to their community Palm trees – where they go to sleep for the night – before darkness and their predator the Lions come out to hunt!  No one makes a move for an hour – there’s stillness.  Suddenly –slowly – one Baboon – then the next – start to retreat – slowly climbing down the tree.  Eventually after another hour they all have gone and moved on – No – but one!  He’s 5’ 4” tall – the biggest – baddest – meanest – nastiest looking Baboon you’ve ever seen – look at those fangs – he is the dominant male Baboon of the troop.  The entire time the troop had attacked Moltopi – he sat at the base of Moltopi’s tree - he never moved – he never went up.  He had been waiting – waiting for her to jump out of the tree – trying to make her last dash for life – he hoped that she might break a leg if she jumped – but she didn’t.  Moltopi had survived - held on till the end – now – Mr. Big must go up to get her.  Slowly he starts up the tree – Moltopi is watching his every move.  Then he goes into action – flying branch to branch – like the circus master of the flying trapeze!  In a flash - he is able to get above her.  One large male Baboon can kill a Leopard - if he can attack it from behind or get on her back – but Moltopi stays frozen covered by leaves and branches.  Mr. Big waits – he can’t figure out how to launch his attack.  It’s another frozen standoff.  After another hour, Mr. Big – HOHOHO – then slowly – very slowly – moves from branch to branch – down the tree – as he gets to the base – he sits and waits again.  As time slowly passes – Moltopi knows – if she can wait till darkness comes – he will leave.  Finally, Mr. Big slowly – ever so slowly – heads off to his troop.  Moltopi waits – waits and waits – making sure she’s safe to live another day in the bush!

We watched this scene from our Landcruiser at the base of the tree for a couple of hours.  It is the most powerful experience I have ever felt in nature and Africa.  Blown away, what can I say?

If you get an opportunity to watch on PBS or purchase the National Geographic DVD “Eye of the Leopard.” – It’s the best – it star's Moltopi!! Filmed and directed by the Joberts.