Can Leopards Climb Trees? [The Best Big Cat Climbers]

Photo: Gunter Nuyts / Shutterstock

Leopards are a species of big cats that live in many places all over the world.

They primarily use stealth to ambush their prey. This includes using the environment around them to their advantage, including trees.

Leopards climb trees more often than any other big cat. Their muscle structure and large, retractable claws make it easy for them to scale trees even with another dead animal in their mouth. Leopards use trees to stalk and kill their prey, as well as to hide from other predators and scavengers. 

Leopard Habitats

Leopards are capable of living in a large variety of climates. This includes savannas, grasslands, forests, deserts, and even mountain regions. They are the only known species of big cats that live in both rainforest and desert habitats.

These cats can be found in the Middle East, China, eastern Russia, India, and a large portion of Africa. This makes them the most widespread species of big cats.

Trees can be found in many of these environments, most obviously the forests and rainforests. Even the African savanna has trees for leopards to climb, like the African fig tree.

Can Leopards Climb Trees?

Leopards are excellent climbers. Their bodies are built for climbing, more so than any other big cat. They have special attachment sites in their shoulders for stronger climbing muscles.

Lions, on the other hand, aren’t quite as flexible. They’re much larger than the average leopard and have a stiff back that prevents them from climbing trees as easily.

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Leopards also have curved, sharp claws on all of their feet. These are retractable, unlike cheetah claws, and help leopards climb.

Their legs are also very muscular, which helps not only pull themselves up into trees, but their prey with them.

Leopards also have long tails to assist them in climbing. The tail helps them balance on the narrower branches of trees. Leopards spend more time climbing than any other big cat.

Even their fur is beneficial to them in trees. Leopards have dark, flower-like spots on their fur called rosettes.

These are similar to jaguar spots, though jaguars have small dots inside their rosette groupings. Jaguars themselves are known to climb trees, but, like lions, aren’t as agile as leopards.

The spots on a leopard’s body help break up their body’s outline and blend them in with the tree leaves. This is important for their survival, as leopards are very stealthy hunters. They have to be able to stalk their prey without the other animal noticing.

Leopards Use Trees To Hunt

The camouflage their spots provide is not the only reason leopards like to climb trees. They also use trees to help them take their prey down.

Leopards are not as fast as cheetahs, only able to run in short bursts of up to 60 kph (about 37 mph).

Instead of chasing, they will stalk or ambush their prey. They will get as close as possible before pouncing and biting their prey on the neck to subdue it.

Their climbing abilities allow them to stalk certain prey from above before they pounce. Leopards are known to attack sleeping baboons in trees at night, and even ambush antelopes.

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Trees Protect A Leopard’s Kill

Leopards are solitary animals, preferring to be alone, although their territories do overlap. The exception to this is female leopards, who will stay with their cubs for about two years.

Because they live alone, leopards can’t rely on a pride like lions do when it comes to getting food. Once they kill their prey, leopards are at the mercy of hyenas and even lions. These other animals will attempt to steal the leopard’s prey out from under them.

To combat this, leopards use their physical attributes to hide the food away. A leopard is capable of climbing 15 meters (50 feet) high with dead prey even larger than themselves.

Unlike cheetahs, who only eat fresh meat, leopards will stash their food for later consumption.

This way, a leopard can return to their food once there’s no more danger of it being stolen or of them being attacked themselves. They even display “surplus killing” behavior. This means they kill more than one animal at a time.

They’ll then store the extra dead prey at different locations. Leopards are able to eat rotten meat instead of only fresh.

This allows them to have extra food stores they can access when other stores are inaccessible, or when prey is absent.


Leopards can climb trees more adeptly than any other big cat. Their specific muscle structure and retractable claws allow them to climb 50 feet high. They can even drag other dead animals into trees to protect them from scavengers and other predators.

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Leopards use these attributes to their advantage. Trees allow them to ambush their prey from above, and they keep them safe from danger. Climbing trees is a natural and beneficial skill for the leopard species.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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