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Exploring Africa Since 1688

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Daring rodent steals lunch from a puzzled leopard

Real life Dangermouse was a dirty rat!

This didn't happen in southern Africa but it does involve an African leopard and it is an amusing story. It was captured on film by photography student Casey Gutteridge shortly after feeding time at the Santago Rare Leopard Project in Hertfordshire, England.

The Daily Mail recites the events as follows:

The little rat - thought to be only two to three months old - was spotted scampering into the leopard's enclosure shortly after feeding time at the Santago Rare Leopard Project, in Hertfordshire. So intent was the plucky rodent on its mission to snatch a tasty snack, that it seemed not to notice that its path was taking it within a whisker's breadth of 12-year-old Sheena.

Clutching a corner of raw meat with its tiny paws, the rat busily tucked in, until it sensed one of those whiskers moving in. Sheena, bemused by the interloper coming between her and the remains of dinner, padded over on paws big enough to wreak vengeance with a single swipe. But rather than giving the thief at very least the hearty set down it deserved, she gingerly lowered her nose for an exploratory sniff. Rattus paused, lifted its dainty pink claws in submission, then - obviously deciding on a nothing-ventured-nothing-gained approach - continued to tuck in. And after another tentative investigation, Sheena gave the leopard equivalent of a shrug and turned away.

Mr Gutteridge, 19, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, thought the rodent was a mouse. Mr Gutteridge said: 'I have no idea where it came from - he just appeared in the enclosure after the keeper had dropped in the meat for the leopard. 'He didn't take any notice of the leopard, just went straight over to the meat and started feeding himself. 'But the leopard was pretty surprised - she bent down and sniffed at it and flinched a bit like she was scared. 'It was amazing, even the keeper who had thrown the meat into the enclosure was shocked - he said he'd never seen anything like it before.'

An expert at the Wildlife Trust said the creature was in fact a young and 'inexperienced rat', identifiable by its big paws and ears and more importantly its bald, scaly tail with a thick base.

Leopard project owner Jackie James added: 'My son threw meat in for the photographers and it just appeared. Sheena batted it away but it just came back. The determined little thing took no notice and just carried on.' Sheena was brought in to the Santago Rare Leopard Project from a UK zoo when she was just four months old. She is one of 14 big cats in the private collection started by Jackie's late husband Peter in 1989.

The African leopard can be found in the continent's forests, grasslands, savannas, and rainforests. The leopard is the most elusive of all the big cats. They are solitary animals and are primarily nocturnal - preferring to hunt at night. The species is also a strong climber and is capable of killing prey larger than itself. The leopard's prey ranges from fish, reptiles and birds to smaller mammals such as hares and monkeys. A stealthy hunter, leopards are known to stalk close to their prey and run a relatively short distance on the hunt. They kill by grabbing their prey by the throat and biting down with their jaws, and store their larger kills in trees - out of the reach of prowling lions and hyenas.



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