Food caching is a common strategy used by a diversity of animals, including carnivores, to store and/or secure food. Despite its prevalence, the drivers of caching behaviour, and its impacts on individuals, remain poorly understood, particularly for short-term food cachers. Leopards Panthera pardus exhibit a unique form of short-term food caching, regularly hoisting, storing, and consuming prey in trees. We explored the factors motivating such behaviour among leopards in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa, associated with four not mutually exclusive hypotheses: food-perishability, consumption-time, resource-pulse, and kleptoparasitism-avoidance. Using data from 2,032 prey items killed by 104 leopards from 2013–2015, we built generalized linear mixed models to examine how hoisting behaviour, feeding time, and the likelihood of a kill being kleptoparasitised varied with leopard sex and age, prey size and vulnerability, vegetation, elevation, climate, and the short-term (immediate presence) and long-term (species density) risk posed by dominant competitors. Leopards hoisted 51% of kills. They were more likely to hoist kills of an intermediate size, outside of a resource pulse, and in response to the presence of some competitors. Hoisted kills were also fed on for longer than non-hoisted kills. At least 21% of kills were kleptoparasitised, mainly by spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta. Kills were more likely to be kleptoparasitised at lower temperatures and if prey were larger, not hoisted, and in areas where the risk of encountering hyaenas was greatest. Female leopards that suffered higher rates of kleptoparasitism exhibited lower annual reproductive success than females that lost fewer kills. Our results strongly support the kleptoparasitism-avoidance hypothesis and suggest hoisting is a key adaptation that enables leopards to coexist sympatrically with high densities of competitors. We further argue that leopards may select smaller-sized prey than predicted by optimal foraging theory, to balance trade-offs between kleptoparasitic losses and the energetic gains derived from killing larger prey. Although caching may provide the added benefits of delaying food perishability and enabling consumption over an extended period, the behaviour primarily appears to be a strategy for leopards, and possibly other short-term cachers, to reduce the risks of kleptoparasitism. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.