One of the most exciting things to witness out in the bush is the process of how a leopard gets its kill up into a tree. Most of us guides out here have been lucky enough to see what is termed a “hoist” at least once or twice, but although leopards are regularly taking their kills into trees, actually witnessing it is by no means a common occurrence.
The stars have align for you, because first of all you have to find a leopard, then that leopard needs to have made a kill fairly recently, and the kill then has to be the right size for the leopard to carry. There also has to be a suitable tree for the leopard to hoist into, before the smell of the kill attracts the unwanted attention of  any hyenas or lions. When all these factors come together, the leoaprd still needs to actually make the decision to hoist, and you need to still be there to see the event take place. So, as much as we praise the work and skill of our phenomenal trackers who help us find the leopard in the first place, sometimes a little bit of luck is needed to witness the actual hoist.

What makes it so exciting to watch is the supreme strength on display as the leopard drags its kill across the ground before casting it’s eyes upwards, inspecting the climbing route and then leaping into the boughs of the tree with its meal in tow. However, this doesn’t always go according to plan as Shaun D’araujo witnessed when the Anderson Male attempted to hoist a fully grown impala into a Marula tree only to fail in spectacular fashion and come tumbling down.

This may happen sometimes when a leopard is feeling rushed to get its kill into the safety of a tree due to the threat of a rival predator, and doesn’t choose the correct route up a tree or chooses a tree that is less than adequate for its needs. We have often seen kills that have been hoisted up into trees which may have not been the first choice of a leopard but necessity and lack of time meant that they had no other option in that moment.

Guests often ask how much a leopard can actually carry up into a tree and at what point does it make the decision to hoist? These questions have stimulated a lot of interesting discussions amongst the guides as different people recounted their experiences and observations.

A leopard will usually be able to hoist slightly more than its own body weight. This is an incredible feat of strength when you think that that weight is being carried in the mouth with the carcass hanging between its legs, as it digs only it’s claws into the bark of a vertical tree trunk!

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The Mashaba Female hoists a fully grown female impala up a vertical tree trunk. Her cub seems determined to hamper her efforts in the process. Photograph by Lucien Beaumont

9
Mashaba 3:3 Female
2008 - present

The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.

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Mashaba 3:3 Female

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24 stories
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2 known
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3 known
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Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.

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Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

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15 stories
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1 known
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1 known
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known
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One example that leaps to mind was when the Anderson male hoisted a giraffe calf into a tree in 2015. No one was there to actually witness the hoist but he was discovered in the morning feeding on the giraffe that would have weighed over 100kg!

The Anderson Male just after he was discovered with the baby giraffe he presumably killed. A Giraffe of that size would have weighed close to three times the weight of the Anderson Male himself. Photograph by Sean Cresswell

9
Anderson 4:4 Male
2008 - present

Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.

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Anderson 4:4 Male

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Unknown
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9 stories
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2 known
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1 known
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Leopards don’t always hoist their kills though and we have countless examples of where we have seen them feeding on their kills on the ground. Even though they are more than capable of hoisting that weight into a tree, sometimes the situation is such that it is not necessary in their eyes. They may deem at that moment that their energy is better spent on feeding as opposed to dragging and hoisting the kill. It could be that the kill is so small that it is only a matter of minutes before it is finished off and it would be a waste of time to hoist it. It may also be the case that the habitat in which it made the kill is dense and inaccessible and the kill  is relatively safe on the ground. But certainly the main driving factor that causes a leopard to hoist it’s kill is the presence of opportunistic predators such as lions and hyenas.

If the kill is small enough sometimes a leopard may just drag it to the relatively safety of a thicket where it could feed on it on the ground.Photograph by James Tyrrell

Sometimes a kill doesn’t have to big for it to be taken up into a tree. Here the Mashaba female repositions a common duiker that she caught. When leopards have cubs their propensity to hoist their kills is also a lot higher as they may need to stash their kill somewhere safe as they head off to find their cub. Photograph by James Tyrrell

It was noted that during the time when the Majingilane Male lions were dominant on the majority of Londolozi that the Hyena population decreased as they moved away from the massive threat that the lion coalition posed. This meant that their was now less chance of a leopard’s kill being stolen by hyenas and the leopards seemed to adjust their behaviour accordingly; choosing to feed on their kills on the ground instead of up in a tree. This behaviour also occurs in other parts of South Africa where lion and hyena populations are not as high as they are in the Sabi Sands. Once the Majingilane coalition moved off Londolozi the hyena numbers began to increase again and soon the leopards responded by hoisting their kills once more.

An opportunistic hyena jumps and grabs part of an Impala kill that wasn’t taken high enough up the tree. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

Being able to hoist the weight that they do and in the manner in which they do it makes leopards arguably, pound-for-pound, the strongest of all the big cats in the world which gives us even more cause to celebrate and admire them more. Whenever I am lucky enough to find a leopard with a kill on the ground my heart rate quickens just a little bit as I scan the area, picturing which tree they are hopefully going to take it up into. It doesn’t always work out but when it does it really is quite something to behold.

For some exciting videos showing leopards hoisting their kills into trees here at Londolozi click on the links below.

Camp Pan Male hoists an Impala Kill

A Quintessential Leopard Hoist

Male Leopard hoists and Leaps with Impala

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

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About the Author

James Souchon

Field Guide

James started his guiding career at the world-renowned Phinda Game Reserve, spending four years learning about and showing guests the wonder of the incredibly rich biodiversity that the Maputaland area of South Africa has to offer. Having always wanted to guide in the ...

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6 Comments

on What’s in a Hoist?

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Suzanne Gibson
Guest

Hi James, I’m puzzled – you say the giraffe calf would have weighed over 100kg and this is 3 times the weight of the Anderson male. But Camp Pan was reckoned to weigh over 80kg, and surely the Anderson male is at least as big?

Susan W
Guest

Great blog, James!
Also your week in review photos were brilliant! The entire family dreams of being in the back of your Land Rover at Londolozi!!!😎 Cheers from NYC,
Xxx Susan & the H gang

Diane
Guest

Amazing! Thank you for educating us!

Wendy Hawkins
Guest

Wonderful James thank you. They are incredible animals & their strength is to be admired! Your pictures are stunning & really show their power. 🙂

Ann Seagle
Guest

Thank u for teaching us. This was incredible.

Luther
Guest

Thank you for your post! It helps me a lot! Hope for your next post!

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