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.
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.
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.
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.