Cuando se trata de comida, los leones aprovecharán una oportunidad cuando la vean… ¡pero rara vez implica subirse a un árbol! Eso es precisamente lo que sucedió frente a los afortunados turistas en la reserva de caza Londolozi de Sudáfrica recientemente, cuando una leona fijó su mirada en la comida que tanto le costó ganar a un leopardo.
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.
The tree’s main trunk was slanted, which made the leopard’s climb easier, and she later returned to her elevated perch to resume eating once again. But the peaceful scene didn’t last long.
“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.
Sensing that trouble wasn’t far off, the female leopard abandoned her carcass and cautiously began making her way down the tree. “It looked as if she was stalking, but from a tree. None of us had seen this type of behaviour before and were desperate to find out what she could see that was causing her such concern,” says Cresswell.
As soon as her paws touched the ground, the leopard fled from the still-unseen danger, followed quickly by her cub.
The tourists and guides stayed put, and the group didn’t have to wait long before the culprit was revealed. A few moments later, the figure of a lioness emerged from a nearby thicket, and a second female followed close behind. The interlopers must have picked up the smell of the leapard’s hard-earned meal and were now zeroing in on a free lunch.
“Without any hesitation, [the first lioness] took the same path up the tree as the female [leopard] did only a few minutes before, straight towards the kudu carcass,” says Cresswell.
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 continued higher and outward, needing to pull herself up. Her claws ripped away chunks of bark as her much larger body edged its way along the branch,” Cresswell recalls.
La dura subida valió la pena. Después de alcanzar su premio, la gata se acomodó para dar unos cuantos bocados, pero pronto se sintió incómoda entre las ramas y decidió reubicar su comida robada en un lugar más apropiado para los leones.
En cuanto a los leopardos, ambos fueron vistos por los guardabosques más tarde ese día, habiendo puesto mucha distancia entre ellos y sus enemigos. “Su comida robada no era motivo de preocupación, ya que ambos se habían alimentado un poco y, lo que es más importante, escaparon de cualquier conflicto con dos grandes leonas: ¡un día exitoso en la naturaleza!”
Para obtener más información sobre por qué los leones a veces se suben a los árboles, mira este video: