There are many reasons why leopards are at the top of African safari request lists and Planet Earth wildlife documentaries. Breathtakingly beautiful, charismatic, powerful, elusive, mysterious, and endlessly unpredictable – no one adjective can fully capture the wild essence of these impressive cats.
Undoubtedly the most elegant of the Big Five this sinuous feline is a creation of grace and beauty. Spotting a sleek leopard draped across the lower branch of a sausage tree, eyes half-closed, seemingly oblivious to your presence, will be the highlight of your early morning game drive.
Even more exciting is being on a night drive and hearing a rustle close by before your spotlight picks out a muscular form leaping down from a tree, padding softly across the road, and heading out on its nocturnal expedition.
Why Do Leopards Climb trees?
Adult leopards will climb trees to hoist kills (stashing them out of the reach of hyenas and other scavengers), or to evade predators like wild dogs, hyenas or lions. Leopards rest in the branches of trees with dense canopies in order to escape the heat of the day with a cooling breeze and increase their sense of safety.
This apparently languid cat weighing around 60 kg can race across the plain, kill an adult antelope and then drag it in its jaws 30 feet up into a tree for safe keeping. Keep your eyes peeled, as you may well spot a tree with a half-eaten meal protruding from a fork of the trunk.
Over time, as they become experienced adults, leopards learn that climbing trees unnecessarily is a waste of the precious energy that they will need to hunt and mark territory. Younger leopards, however, may climb trees for play or to hone their climbing ability. Most of a leopard’s time is actually spent terrestrially; they live a far less arboreal life than many people think.
7 Secret Places to Spot Leopards in Southern and East Africa
We’ve compiled a list of our favourite leopard viewing destinations for the best chances of guaranteed sightings.