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Young impala nuzzles up to a leopard and even enjoys tumble with its unusual pal

Most impalas run for their lives at the sight of a leopard but this plucky youngster snuck in for an affectionate embrace instead.  The unlikely friendship between the hunter and its prey was captured in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The impala nuzzles the big cat’s nose and mouth, and even when its new friend gets a little rough, it shows no signs of running off.  The encounter was filmed by game ranger Estiaan Houy, 31, while out on safari with British and American guests.

He said: ‘In all my years of being a game ranger I have never seen such an encounter, nor do I ever expect to see a repeat of it again. ‘I felt amazed and honored to see such a rare and unexplainable sighting.

‘The impala at no stage showed any signs of distress or fear. Every time the leopard would playfully interact with the baby impala, it would return to the leopard and either sniff its face or push its head against the leopard’s face. ‘A few times the impala would jump away from the leopard and, true to cat form, the leopard would pull it back closer with its claws.’

Mr. Houy said young leopards sometimes play with their prey due to a lack of killing experience and believes this may explain the odd encounter. He added: ‘Although this appears to play, only the leopard was actually playing and not the impala. ‘The impala rubbed faces with the leopard because it’s a newborn and doesn’t know any better.

‘The leopard could have been waiting for the baby’s mother to return and then kill her.’ Houy, who works for Jock Safari Lodge, says the amiable interaction lasted for an hour before the leopard lazily strolled into a bush, closely followed by the impala.

William Fox, the senior project manager from INGWE Leopard Research said: ‘The leopard is just doing what leopards do and like many cats, it is playing with its prey. ‘I’ve seen similar things before, when just like a domestic cat, which may bring a mouse home and play with i), this leopard is just playing around before the inevitable.

‘As much as it would be nice to think predator and prey became buddies, the instances of vegetarian leopards are nonexistent, so the end result is very likely to not have ended well for the Impala.’ It is not known what happened afterward – but sadly it is likely the friendship only lasted until dinnertime.

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