The Big Five, consisting of the African lion, African leopard, African elephant, Cape buffalo and the endangered rhino, are the celebrities of the African bush. Of the Big Five, the African Leopard is the most elusive and hardest to spot as it’s a master of camouflage and stealth.
The African Leopard, or the Panthera pardus, is one of the least social and most mysterious of the African big cats. After the lion, it is the largest of its kind and can often be found silently lurking in dense bushes or around rocky koppies, and only making the occasional cough-like call.
During the day, its beige-colored coat and rosette markings are the perfect camouflage against the dense bushes, long grass, and trees, which makes it difficult to track and hard to guess where they might be during a daytime safari.
As they are nocturnal cats, the evenings are your best chance of seeing them at their most active. If you’re lucky, during a safari tour you might be able to spot a leopard in action, catching, killing and moving its prey. The leopard has a varied diet, ranging from insects as small as dung beetles to baby giraffes, but its favorite is the antelope.
Their hunting technique ranges from ambushing their prey to slow and patient stalking. In both cases, the animal tries to get as close as possible to its target waiting for the perfect moment to ambush it. Once it’s within a ten-meter range from its prey, it runs up to 60 KM/H and grabs the prey with its long claws, delivering a fatal bite to the neck. From here, it will drag its meal up into the fork of a tall tree in order to protect the carcass from scavengers and other predators.
Although they prefer to be alone, African Leopards, especially the males, are known to roam large areas of land, marking their territory (which ranges from 8 to 48 square miles for males and 9 to 14 square miles for females) with claw marks on trees and pheromones from their urine.
This makes it hard to guess where they might be during a safari. So, to complete your Big Five experience, we have put together the top five safari destinations that give you best chance of catching a glimpse of the leopard:
Kruger National Park, South Africa
One of the best chances you have of seeing the African Leopard is at the Kruger National Park, which is spread over nearly 5 million acres of land in northeastern South Africa. The national park is known as one of Africa’s largest game reserves and it’s packed with mountains, bush plains, and lush forests. It’s known as a great place to spot all of the Big Five in general, and is home to a high concentration of leopards in the park, meaning you have a good chance of spotting the fabulous spotted cat.
Check out safaris such as a 5-day Budget Safari in Kruger National Park or a 3-day Classic Safari in Kruger National Park to plan your trip.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
Maasai Mara in Kenya is a top destination to spot the African Leopard. It’s located on the border of Kenya and Tanzania and covers a whopping 583 square miles. The national park is a vast landscape of open grassland that’s packed with acacia and thorn bushes and is dotted with animals, meaning that there’s plenty of prey for the African leopard.
In the months of July to October, the animal population swells thanks to the arrival of the rainy season and the lush, green grass that emerges soon after.
The area of Maasai is generally known to have a dense leopard population, so your chances of seeing one are high. You’ll often need binoculars to spot leopards and they often spend their days draped along tree branches, so be sure to always look up.
There’s an area in Maasai Mara called Leopard Gorge, which has a nearby watering hole that attracts gazelles, impalas, and warthogs. There are several caves and large rocks, meaning it’s a perfect place for a leopard to stalk prey.
Browse tours such as the 4-Day Maasai Mara Safari in Kenya or the 3-day Maasai Mara Budget Safari in Kenya to plan your safari trip.
Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Moremi Game Reserve spans over a large part of the Okavango Delta, which is one of the best areas in Botswana to see wildlife. You’ll have the best chances of seeing leopards on the outer edges of the park, which is where they are spotted more often.
To the east of the reserve, there are plenty of shallow pools and drinking holes, which draw prey. Leopards can often be seen in the surrounding trees, stalking their next meal. Check out the 8-Day Wildlife Safari Trip in Botswana, which passes through the Moremi Game Reserve. The area was designed to be a game reserve, instead of a national park, so that the local people, known as the BaSarwa, could continue living on the land.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania is known as a great place to spot leopards. The area, which covers 3,200 square miles, is made up of highland plains, savanna woodlands, and forests and is home to the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe. There is so much to see here, from visiting extinct volcanos to mountain climbing, but the area is best known for its game viewing where the livestock from local tribes grazes freely with the wildlife.
This 7-Day Wildlife Safari in Tanzania will take you to the conservation area, where you can try to spot leopards hiding in the surrounding trees. Be sure to have your camera ready.
Want to get up close and personal with the big five? Then check out these affordable African safaris!