Okavango Delta, Botswana

The legendary leopards of Tubu Tree


Our Collective


Janine Avery


Leopards in Botswana

In the scenic and wildlife-rich Jao Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Wilderness Tubu Tree and Little Tubu are being reimagined and reinvigorated, set to offer a brand-new safari experience to guests from June 2024. 


Owned and loved by the Kays family for over two decades, the Jao Reserve offers an extraordinary experience, with Tubu Tree, and its sister camp Little Tubu, particularly sought after for their thrilling leopard, wild dog and lion sightings. In fact, leopards have always been a highlight for guests visiting this area.

Back when Wilderness Tubu Tree was first built, lions held dominance over the territories around our other Wilderness camps in the area, namely Wilderness Jao and Wilderness Kwetsani. This meant that the riverine area around Wilderness Tubu Tree became a haven for the smaller predators like leopard and wild dog. 

The early days of leopards at Wilderness Tubu Tree

There was one female leopard in the early days of Wilderness Tubu Tree that we began to see regularly; in fact so much so that she earned the nickname the Tubu Camp Female. She frequently hunted impala, kudu and bushbuck close to camp, hanging around the area for days on end to feast on her kill. A successful mother, she had seven litters that our senior guide witnessed from the time she began to frequent the area around Wilderness Tubu Tree and Little Tubu. Of the seven litters, she lost three, mostly to the baboons, but also a fight with another female leopard, where they were witnessed killing each other’s cubs. The Tubu Camp Female became an extremely popular leopard due to her presence in this area of the Okavango Delta. 

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Tracking leopards during COVID

By the end of March 2020, she gave us all a big surprise. COVID had closed the camps, and unexpectedly, one of our managers, doing checks on the closed camps, discovered a baby leopard in the guest loo area at Wilderness Little Tubu. Watching from a safe distance, our camp staff and one resident photographer watched in awe as the mom moved her cub from their brief safe haven at Little Tubu to a new den site not too far away. 


Unfortunately, further searches for cub yielded no results. There were no tracks, and camera traps in the Jao Reserve picked up no sign of the mother and cub. It was assumed they had unfortunately passed on. Then suddenly, at the beginning of 2021, a big male leopard cub and the Tubu Camp Female appeared close to Wilderness Tubu Tree, yielding some fantastic sightings for those lucky enough to make their home in the Okavango Delta during lockdown. 


The most surprising thing however, was that the female appeared to be pregnant again, a rarity considering leopards usually take around two years to raise their cubs before becoming fertile again. Later in 2021, the leopard went on to have another two female cubs which were lucky, as again she put both cubs in the toilet area – thankfully due to COVID the camp had no guests. At the height of lockdown, we were treated to some fascinating moments with all three cubs together, with the mother making kills for all of them, and the big male playing with the small leopards – going against what is typically considered leopard behaviour. 

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Then at the beginning of 2022, she had another cub – and again she used the guest loo area as a safe haven for a brief period of time. But each time after she realised that their hiding place had been discovered she moved the cub. For most of 2022, the leopards were frequently seen around camp, but towards the end of the year the leopard seemingly disappeared. We waited and waited for her to come back but unfortunately, with our last sighting of her in October 2023, and at 17 or 18 years old, she is most likely no longer alive. 


Most of her male cubs have left the area, kicked out by the dominant male when they reached maturity. But her last male cub is sometimes seen close to camp as are two of her female clubs, both having had cubs of their own within the last year.

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More leopards in the Okavango Delta

At the same time the Tubu Camp Female roamed the Okavango Delta, she had an arch enemy known to local guides as the Sandy Gully Female, whose cub is frequently seen around camp, now that the Tubu Camp Female is no longer around. 


In fact, this cub has often been spotted hanging out in the thatched roof at the airstrip, lying on the wings of parked aircraft, lounging around the boat dock, or picking fights with honey badgers in the area. It’s not uncommon to see leopard kills right in front of the boma at Wilderness Tubu Tree.   


Of the leopards of Wilderness Tubu Tree and Little Tubu, co-owner Cathy Kays says, “Even though we have leopards all over the Okavango Delta and the Jao Reserve, the leopards of Hunda Island on which these two camps are located are very relaxed, as they have grown up seeing vehicles. There is often interaction between the leopards and other predators close to camp, such as wild dogs, lions and hyenas. For instance, during the initial build of Wilderness Tubu Tree and Little Tubu, the Sandy Gully Female and her adolescent male cub killed a full-grown kudu close to camp. The next day a lioness chased the leopards from the kill and took over the kill, and later in the evening, the hyenas came and chased the lioness and took over the kill. A memorable day for all involved”.


Guest safety is naturally of paramount concern to us, hence guests always being accompanied by a guide in the early morning and evening hours when leopards, and other predators, are more likely to be active. Additionally, raised walkways between the suites and main areas of camp, keep guests safely off the ground. “There has never been any threat from the leopards in our camps. Usually when they make a kill in camp we are alerted by the other animals and then we avoid the area. When they have killed at the boma while we are there, they move the kill away into the thick bush for their own safety”, says Cathy. 

Wilderness Tubu Tree

Fall in love with Tubu and leopards


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When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.