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Tubu Tree's Leopard Dynasty

We’re back for season 4 of the Safari Stories podcast! After a healthy hiatus, we come back to you while on safari in Botswana's Okavango Delta, reflecting on a few incredible days at the wonderful Tubu Tree Camp. We talk about our gifted guide, Kambango Delta, discuss some Tubu leopard family history, and how we’ve seen more leopard history in the making!

It’s Day 5 of our Okavango trip and for the first episode of a brand new Safari Stories Season, we are on location and reflecting on three insane days of safari at the wonderful Tubu Tree Camp.

Set on Hunda Island in the Jao Concession, Tubu Tree is a bush camp through and through and one that we wish we could visit as often as possible. What makes Tubu so special is not only its fabulous location on an incredibly productive part of the Jao concession but the fact that it is totally unpretentious and back to basics and that many of its staff have been proudly working there for many years.

Tubu Tree Camp Botswana

Above: Wilderness Tubu Tree during flood season, photo credit Dana Allen

Tubu Tree Camp Room Interior

Above: One of the guest rooms at Tubu Tree

Kambango Delta (our guide) is one of these people. An Okavango native, he has been based at Tubu Tree since 2009 and knows the area and its animals like the back of his hand. Delta grew up in the bush and his innate ability to track and find elusive species such as leopard over the three days we were there left us in absolute awe. His humility and respect for the bush and its inhabitants only strengthened this fact. Normally tricky mammals to locate, leopards and their secrets were unlocked for us by Delta on a daily basis; this in combination with his knowledge of the family history and dynamics as well as the various leopard’s individual territories meant we could make educated guesses as to why the cats were doing what they were doing at any given time.

Kambango Delta on a mekoro canoe

Above: Kambango Delta in his element on a mokoro, photo by Jomi

This began on the first evening drive, when we found a female leopard close to a freshly made impala kill. We noticed that this female had quite a large belly which she seemed to be uncomfortably lying on, yet her kill had hardly been touched. Delta knew she had been mating several months before and suspected she was heavily pregnant. Leopards only really show they are pregnant in the 2-3 weeks leading up to them giving birth. Our theory was further strengthened the next day, when we found the same leopard quite a long way from her kill and showing no intent to return to it. She was quite restless whenever we found her; when lying on the ground, she would prefer to lie on her back, when in a tree, she struggled to settle. On our last morning at Tubu, one of Delta’s colleagues spotted her going into a large cavity in the same Jackalberry tree we had seen her in the previous day. Delta had seen a ground hornbill, a very large species of bird, nesting in this tree years before and knew that the hole in the tree would be big enough for the female to give birth in. We waited patiently for some time but whether or not she gave birth there remains to be seen -Delta said he would update us if/when this happens!

Pregnant leopard female in tree

Above: The Camp Female’s heavily pregnant daughter, trying her best to get comfortable in a Jackalberry Tree, photo by Jomi.

To justify this leopard’s behaviour, Delta told us a little more of her background. Since he started working at Tubu, a female known as the Camp Female has had her territory in and around the island the camp is on. The Camp Female is now around 16 years of age, which is already quite old for a leopard and one would not expect her to be around for too much longer. Five years back, in 2018, a member of Tubu staff had discovered what they thought was a leopard cub in the main area bathroom of the camp. Delta had rushed back to camp from his afternoon safari to discover that this was indeed the case. This had been at a time when camp was luckily empty and the toilet was flagged as ‘occupied’ to give the Camp Female the opportunity to move her cub, which she did. The cub did still grow up close to camp and became very relaxed with the presence of humans, just like her mother. This little cub would grow up to be the female we were viewing on game drive and who was now looking for a den site to raise a litter of her own. Older leopard females tend to have more success in raising their cubs and her behaviour in choosing a den this time around already showed a marked improvement from her last attempt, which was unsuccessful. Delta also saw it as fitting that while the Camp Female was likely to be in the twilight of her life, her daughter was becoming a dominant leopardess in the area and he is confident that she will move into her mother’s territory around the camp when her mother eventually passes away.

Pregnant Leopard Seated

Above: The leopard that was found in Tubu Tree's guest toilet, now all grown up and preparing for a litter of her own. Photo by Hadley

Part of the beauty of this camp and this area is that there are so few vehicles and that quality time can be spent with these animals in the company of professional guides who can understand and explain their complex ecology and behaviour.

Tune in next week to hear about some of the other animals encountered over these three incredible days at Tubu Tree.

Tune in! You can listen to the Safari Stories podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, our website, or wherever you listen to your podcasts! Links below.


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