A couple of years ago we published a post about whether or not leopards have favourite trees.

The pivotal line in the post is probably the following:

Leopards climb the nearest tree to them that will fulfil their immediate needs.

Whilst this may be true, and I still believe it to be so, it nevertheless seems as though the Tamboti female leopard has a marked affinity for hoisting her kills in saffron trees. And this is going to come across as quite a bratty thing to say, but it’s frustrating! Saffrons are far from the the most photographer-friendly trees one can get, and this leopard’s continued insistence on hoisting her kills in them ultimately frustrates even the most determined efforts to capture great pictures of her.

It’s not just Saffrons, but gardenias and milkberries too.

These three are the group that one is most likely to get confused between when first starting to differentiate between tree species, but it’s their similarities that this female leopard is using to her advantage.

With densely clustered branches, the tree species all represent the perfect place in which to stash carcasses, but the hardest places for us to take photos of them. Bratty, like I said.

It’s not just the Tamboti female that recognises/d the value of saffron trees. Here the old Tugwaan male feeds on an nyala carcass he had hoisted into one. Photograph by Dave Dampier.

Without the immediate pressure of kleptoparasites (hyenas, lions etc.) and therefore with time seemingly available, leopards will seek to hoist in the most appropriate trees, with concealment I imagine being the most important factor to look for. I have not run the stats on this, nor shall I, nor has anyone as far as I am aware, so this is merely observational, but many, many times I’ve watched as leopards dragged kills past what appeared to be perfectly good trees to hoist in. At least to us. But “perfectly good” doesn’t mean “best”, and this is where leopards know far better than us.

First prize is not losing the kill, which is why I mentioned concealment as the primary factor in a leopard’s tree choice. Ease-of-hoist might play its part, but if a tree is easy to hoist in yet doesn’t have a lot of foliage amongst which to hide the kill, another predator will be able to spot the carcass from far away.

Makhotini Warthog 2 Jt

The Makhotini male had just killed this warthog at around sunset. With darkness swiftly approaching, we were hoping he’d hoist the kill in one of the innumerable marula trees that dotted the area…

Makhotini Carry Warthog Jt

He had other ideas, however, as he dragged it for a good couple of hundred metres, bypassing plenty of hoisting opportunities. We believed he was making for a prominent schotia (with thick foliage) another 200 metres away, but with the spotlight on him we would have been attracting unnecessary attention to him, so left. The next morning he was gone, having been robbed by hyenas before he reached the schotia. He paid the price for being over-selective in his tree choice.

Getting back to the Tamboti female, I am convinced that a large part of her reasoning for choosing saffrons, gardenias and milkberries is the fact that she is raising a cub, and was still raising two when she started taking the litter to kills.

Cubs learn from experience, but often the hard way. Shifting a heavy kill around amongst the branches of a tree takes dexterity and strength, two things that cubs take a while to acquire. Many is the time that a cub has unintentionally dropped a kill while trying to reposition it, much to the annoyance of its mother, and more often than not a hyena will be waiting patiently by for just such an opportunity. I have seen hyenas continue to sleep while a mother leopard fed on her hoisted kill, but as soon as the cub takes its turn to feed, the scavengers have come slinking in, knowing that this is their best chance for the kill to be dropped.

In the three tree species currently favoured by the Tamboti female however, the dense tangle of branches means that the kill is far less likely to slip, and is far harder to be dislodged once it has been firmly wedged in. Even if a cub makes an unwitting move and the kill falls, chances are high that it will simply be caught by a branch lower down.

Tamboti Cub Milkberry Jt1

Despite being up in a milkberry tree which confounded almost all of our efforts to obtain a decent photo, this cub of the Tamboti female eventually settled into a gap through which we managed to rattle off a couple of shots.

One will notice that there aren’t any pictures of the Tamboti female in a saffron in this post, for the simple reason that in that species, one can almost never get a clear view of her, which, as stated, can be frustrating when it’s your job to get either photographs or footage!

The thing I love about this though is that it’s just another example of how the animals here aren’t here for our benefit. They don’t ‘pose’ or ‘show off’. They simply live their lives as nature intended, and if we are lucky, we might get to share a few special moments of their journey with them.


Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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on The Tamboti Female Leopard’s Favourite Tree(s)

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Gillian Lacey

Lovely post about Leopards & trees – two of my favourite subjects. It has cheered me up as I sit in the dentists waiting room wishing I was at Londolozi!

Marinda Drake

It is so true James. We would like to think the animals are there for us, but they just live their lives in a very tough environment. I always feel that it is not a zoo out there and we must respect the animal and nature.

Joanne Wadsworth

Thank you James for the stellar images in this post. Breathtaking! Also it’s very understandable why a photographer might be frustrated trying to catch a shot of a leopard within the entanglement of all those branches. However I tend to celebrate when a leopard kills, hoists and feeds….thereby to live another day. Meanwhile, I’m closing so I can review those marvelous images again. Thanks!

Denise Vouri

I had to chuckle at your parting comments that animals don’t “pose or show-off” I’ve been traveling through the bush lands of Africa since ‘86, albeit sometimes 10 years passed between visits, and it never ceases to amaze me that guests will ask the guides to “make the animal stop so I can take a good photo “! As you stated, the animals are doing what comes naturally- we are merely observers in their lives. I had always believed that leopards favored Marula and Leadwood trees for their broad branches but I understand how the more densely foliaged trees could be quite appealing. The cub image was beautiful.

Any comments on the last Majingilane standing, knowing Scar Nose is no longer with us.

Darlene Knott

Amen! Interesting article and terrific photos as always, James! Thank you!

Bright Night

I love this girls compound! I’m thinking if I were a lion, I would not try to navigate thru this tree! Such a great post and beautiful picures as always..

James Tyrrell

Thanks for the comments Bright!

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