The best moments on safari are when we can witness the natural behavior of the animals. Among the big cats leopards are unique for their trait of carrying their kills up into trees. This definitive behavior is a critical one as it provides the leopard with a chance to safely cache food and consume as much as they want at their leisure without worry that lions or hyenas will pirate their hard won prey.
It is an impressive display of strength and agility. To observe a leopard carrying a kill up a tree is without doubt one of the most thrilling safari sightings.
On the last Big Cats & the Migration safari that I guided our group had the fascinating opportunity to not only see a leopard haul an impala up a tree but to actually observe a mother tutor her daughter to develop this vital skill. On a night drive we were sitting in the dark near the base of a tree containing a young leopard named Fig (about 10 months old). Soon Fig’s mother Acacia arrived, a bit breathless with a freshly killed young impala dangling from her mouth.
After gathering herself Acacia sprang to the tree and hauled the impala up the tree toward Fig. Then in an extraordinary teaching moment, as Fig approached and vocalized in excitement for food, Acacia purposely dropped the kill to the ground forcing Fig to descend the tree and bring the kill up on her own. Practical learning at its best!
Fig came down, secured the impala and impressively climbed the tree with the kill. Once sufficiently high up the tree it was a bit comical as Fig struggled with how to secure the carcass and numerous times she tried to bend down to eat only to have the prey slipping off the branch requiring her to quickly snag it and try again. Eventually she found a suitable fork to wedge the kill and eat.
Acacia is a leopard I know well having spent nearly 4 hours with her on my first ever visit to Mara Plains Camp in early 2009. At that time she had two very young cubs and she successfully raised both to independence. Her daughter in that litter, Pretty Girl, is the leopard that I’ve seen most at Mara Plains and has been my favorite.
In February I was able to see Fig when she was just about 10 weeks old and it was very rewarding to return in October and see her successful development. It is a privilege to be able to visit the same area frequently and track the lives of these remarkable leopards.