Leopards are by far the most elusive member of the so-called Big Five. Shy and solitary, these big cats will not let you see them unless they want you to. So where is best to ‘spot’ one? Although it’s all down to luck, there are a handful of safari destinations with more chance of leopard sightings than others. Here are our top suggestions.
Where to see leopards in Africa
Sabi Sands, South Africa
Easily the best place on the whole African continent for seeing leopards is South Africa’s Sabi Sands Private Reserve, on the border of Kruger National Park. Here the leopards have become so used to safari vehicles that they’re seen regularly and make little attempt to hide themselves. The Sands is known as a place where you’re almost guaranteed to see the full Big Five (lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo and leopards) and much more within 24 hours – a great first safari destination.
The delta is an amazing place for wildlife viewing and there’s a good chance of seeing leopards here, too. Nowhere is quite like the Sands for ease of leopard sightings, but this is definitely a good second choice and considerably wilder. There are lots of leopards living around Moremi Game Reserve in the delta and due to the healthy tourism industry, they are habituated to vehicles and thus easier to approach.
Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is another of the best places in Africa to see leopards. The park reportedly has the highest concentration of these cats on the continent – partly because there’s so much forest cover. Your best chance to see leopards will likely be in the dry season when they can be found around permanent water sources.
The plains of Kenya’s Masai Mara are known for their big cats, especially lions and cheetahs. But there are also plenty of leopard sighting to be enjoyed here too, usually in the more vegetated areas of the Mara, particularly along the river banks. As an area used to lots of tourism, animals such as leopards are well habituated and relaxed around safari vehicles.
Fun facts about leopards
- Leopards live all over sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, central Asia, India, Sri Lanka and China.
- African black leopards – also known as black panthers – are the same species, but a melanistic variation.
- They are solitary and mark their territory with scratches on trees and urine scenting. Cubs will stay with their mothers for two years, during which time they will learn to hunt for themselves.
- They usually rest in trees, where they’ll also drag their kills, keeping their meal out of reach of lions, hyenas and wild dogs.
- Leopards stalk their prey, getting close enough to pounce without first being seen. They’ll typically go for small antelopes such as impalas, as well as monkeys, fish, rock hyraxes (dassies), reptiles and many other animals, depending on their habitat.