A question I get asked on a regular basis is “how often do you see leopards in trees”. This made me reflect on all my favourite sightings of leopards in trees and the various scenarios that played out.
There are various reasons why leopards might climb up trees. Some of these factors depend on the amount of predator pressure that the leopards may face. Leopards often get harassed by either hyenas or lions and will seek out a tree to climb if one is nearby.
Depending on the area of the respective leopards, some leopards may simply eat their meals on the ground. If it looks as if another predator is storming in to steal the meal, the leopard could hoist the kill with a swift leap up a sturdy, mature tree.
I remember spending an entire, sweltering hot, afternoon game drive with this leopard enjoying her meal. The sun eventually set and the deepest blue sky developed just before darkness descended, creating a wonderful contrast for this image.
Of all my sightings in the Kruger National Park, this is still my only one of a leopard in a tree with a kill. It was a real treat turning the corner on a lonely dirt road one morning and finding this female tucking into an impala.
This was the first sighting that I had of this youngster. The mother had made a kill and the young son would growl at mom each time she dare came close to the kill.
Hands down one of the scariest looking male leopards that I have ever come across. This male had deep-set, piercing eyes and a nasty attitude. Just one look from this guy always sent shivers down my spine.
Mothers may leave their cubs in the safety of the tree tops while they are out hunting. The cubs are also more than capable of climbing trees from a very young age.
A young cub would not take its eyes and ears off of a clan of hyenas scurrying about the base of the tree. It seemed to have the deepest fascination in the hyenas below.
One of the most playful leopard cubs that I have spent time with. The cub was resting deep in a heavily foliaged tree. After some time, the cub tip toed along a branch which pointed in my direction and came to investigate what I was doing there.
My favourite female leopard, named Basile, has the worst luck when raising cubs and I was rooting hard for this cub to survive. Of all the identification spot patterns that I have seen, this cub had a unique 1:1 whisker spot pattern. This pattern represents the single spots on the top row of the left and right whisker lines. This was the last sighting that I had of this interesting cub before it too did not make it.
I developed a special love for this cub, the last litter from Basile. I watched Basile enter a small cave at the back of our lodge the evening before this cub was born. She kept the cubs hidden for about two weeks and then moved the cubs right before Christmas, passing by a field camera trap.
Usually when cubs are born we give them a few weeks to acclimatize to their new environment. I was lucky enough to find Basile moving her new litter a few days after this settling in period was over. The cubs posed on the fallen tree and mesmerized me with large, innocent eyes.
When leopards are roaming through their terriorty or actively hunting, one may find them climbing up a tree in order to have a better vantage point.
I remember tracking this leopard for over two hours one winter’s morning. The tracks eventually led my tracker and I in circles. We simply could not put the puzzle together. We were about to give up. My tracker instructed me to collect the vehicle and come back to fetch him. I walked a few paces ahead of him and heard a whistle coming from my tracker. I stopped and looked back at him. He was smiling victoriously while laughing at himself and pointed up at a tree a few meters away from us. Success!
One of the most relaxed and successful female leopards I have come across, scans the area across a thick drainage line, spotting some impala in the distance. She made her way towards the impala. It was nearly impossible to follow her through the thickets, but after much patience I was rewarded with seeing a successful hunt.
A heart breaking moment witnessing this mother leopard lying on this fallen tree calling hopelessly for about an hour for her missing cub. The cub was missing for a week already and I assume that baboons got hold of the cub when mom went out hunting that day.
If there was one leopard that exudes confidence, it would be this beauty. I found her far out of her territorial boundary for a few days. She moved through this new area as if she already owned it. She took a break and rested in this tree. She would scan the surrounding land to see who dare walk through her newly claimed area.
I do not get to spend a lot of time with this female leopard. She has good days and bad days. On bad days she will simply slink away into thick grass when she hears you approach. On a good day, especially when she is up a tree, she will give you all the time in the world. Although it is tricky to get great images of this female, I feel she is the most photogenic of all the female leopards in my area.
Turns out that I have seen a great deal of leopards in trees and I thoroughly enjoyed reflecting on all these magnificent memories.