By Earth Touch April 01 2016
In the world of big cats, trees are usually leopard territory. The spotted cats' smaller size makes them vulnerable to bigger felines like lions, or to animals whose strength comes from numbers, like hyenas. But thanks to their amazing tree-climbing skills, leopards have another option. High up in the branches, the cats – and their lunch – are usually safe. Sometimes, though, elevation is just not enough.
Last month, safari guide Sean Cresswell, along with two other Londolozi guides, tracked down a female leopard and her nine-month-old cub, and the group stopped their vehicles to allow guests to observe the feline pair feeding on the carcass of a young kudu. The adult cat had probably killed the antelope the previous night.
Having eaten enough for the day, the younger leopard eventually sauntered over to some bushes to rest. The mother, meanwhile, began the task of moving what remained of the carcass towards the safety of a nearby tree.
"A few minutes later she suddenly became very alert, staring into the distance ... She was no longer interested in her meal as she repositioned in the canopy to get a better view, eyes wide open and ears forward," writes Cresswell on the Londolozi blog.
After hoisting her meal into the tree, the mother leopard began eating once more – but it wasn't long before she sensed trouble approaching. Image: Don Heyneke (left) and Nick Kleer (right).
As soon as her paws touched the ground, the leopard fled from the still-unseen danger, followed quickly by her cub.
Sensing danger, the leopard makes a quick getaway. Image: Nick Kleer
While lions are not known for their tree-climbing abilities, the behaviour isn't as rare as you'd think. Young lions will often scale trees when they play (being lighter helps), and prides in certain parts of Africa are famous for it. Most fully grown adults will attempt only easily accessible branches, and this female's job was made easier by the slant of the tree.
The lioness's much heavier frame made her climb up the tree more difficult. Image: Don Heyneke (left) and Nick Kleer (right)
The tough climb was worth it. After reaching her prize, the cat settled in for a few mouthfuls, but soon grew uncomfortable amongst the branches and decided to relocate her stolen meal to a more lion-appropriate location.
As for the leopards, both were spotted by rangers later that day, having put plenty of distance between themselves and their foes. "Their stolen meal was nothing to worry about as both had fed somewhat and, more importantly, escaped any conflict with two large lionesses: a successful day in the wild!"
Uncomfortable in her elevated perch, the cat soon decided to relocate, taking her stolen meal with her. Image: Don Heyneke