The elusive leopard is the most revered of all the safari sights. Radiating mystique, they are the most challenging of the big five to find. But what a sight! Beauty seems to take on new boundaries with this spotted predator, especially when you’re gazing into lucid blue eyes, or admiring the solemn precision of a leopard stalking its prey.
The Beautiful Solitary Hunter
A leopard’s good looks are accompanied by an exclusivity. Leopards are difficult to spot and there’s always a sense of occasion when you come across them. Unlike lions, you can’t spend just one or two days on safari and expect to see this predator. On a multi-day safari, the small handful of leopard encounters usually becomes your favourite African memories.
These are furtive, solitary animals, shying away from the limelight and hiding themselves away. Usually they’re seen in a tree, their beautiful spotted fur dangling across the branches. The guide passes you the binoculars and points to the leopard. But where is it? You can’t see anything. Then a tail flickers and the camouflage is uncovered. The leopard is much closer than you thought it was. You admire the beautiful rosette patterns. And you realise that’s she’s been watching you, since long before you found her.
Where to see Leopards on Safari
Leopards are found all across Sub-Saharan Africa and have adaptive diets that help them thrive on most safari landscapes. Fiercely territorial, they have a large home range. Other than mating pairs or young cubs, you won’t see more than one in the same area. We can’t recommend destinations that have lots of leopards. However, guides at private concessions have an intimate understanding of the resident cats within their area. We’ve found that these concessions can offer a more guaranteed encounter.
A few encounters are indelibly imprinted in our memory. A leopard carrying a springbok up a tree in Ruaha National Park, a carcass hanging limply from powerful jaws in Namibia’s Etosha, and a resident leopard who chased down baboons in a private Sabi Sands reserve; the troop noisily voiced their protest but were powerless to stop the leopard. Yet these are our indelible memories. With our knowledge of Africa we’ll do everything possible to help you have memories that are just as impressive.
The Importance of Having Great Guides When Searching for Leopards
Every leopard movement is calculated. Even when they’re not on the lookout for a kill, leopards won’t be lounging in the open or making everyone aware of their presence. They’ll be hiding, creeping through the grass with an unrivalled cunning, or resting away in the forest canopy. The neck dips, coldly, stealthily, and suddenly Africa’s most intelligent hunter is gone. Five minutes later there’s a flurry of dust and a chorus of yelps as the predator strikes.
Having an excellent guide is essential to spotting leopards. A dozen vehicles could drive past the same clump of trees and only the exceptional guides will notice the leopard. Through first-hand experience we’ve appreciated how the guides’ animal spotting abilities play an integral role in the safari, so we only recommended places where the guiding meets the highest standards.
Getting Close to Leopards on Your Safari
As leopards are furtive animals, it’s rare to see them along the main trails through a park. In many private concessions you’re permitted to drive off the trail, which helps you get much closer. Leopards really captivate and we’d love to direct you towards private concessions that can maximise the quality of your encounters.