Seeing a leopard in its natural habitat is a sight to behold. But despite being widely distributed in Africa, leopards are one of the most challenging animals out of the big five to spot. Although leopards are found throughout Africa, their elusive and solitary nature makes them stay out of sight.
This species is also nocturnal, which means they usually come out at night to hunt. During the daytime, they camouflage in between thick bushes or rest atop trees. Moreover, poaching and conflict with humans have drastically decreased their population.
This is why spotting leopards can require a bit of luck and strategy. There are a few safari destinations in Africa that boast healthy leopards, which can be seen.
While encountering a leopard during a safari, keep the chattering and murmuring to a minimum to not frighten them. They are shy by nature and can become startled easily, which will drive them away. It is always better to remain quiet if you come across leopards or other big cats, and practise extra caution towards cubs.
To increase your chances of sightings, here are the five best places to see leopards in Africa:
1. Maasai Mara and Samburu reserves, Kenya
The Maasai Mara is an important and well-known national reserve that is home to numerous species of animals. Traditionally renowned for its lion population, leopards in the reserve are also plentiful.
These animals reside in the Mara due to the sheer number of zebras, wildebeests, and others resulting from the Great Migration. From July to November, when these animals migrate from the Serengeti to the Mara, the sighting of predators increases, including leopards.
To catch sight of leopards, avoid the grasslands where cheetahs and lions usually roam. Instead, head to the wooded river areas, especially along the Mara and Talek rivers.
Although leopards venture out mostly at night, the Maasai Mara does not allow night drives. However, you can book a few nights in a private nature reserve in the Mara for after-dark leopard sightings.
Samburu, an off-beaten track, but reportedly holding numerous leopard sightings, features an arid woodland adorned with rocky outcrops and dense riverine bushes. Samburu has earned the top rank as the number one place to spot leopards in Kenya.
2. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is famous for its Great Migration, and visitors flock in large numbers to witness the journey. But where there are gazelles, zebras, and wildebeests, predators wait close by.
Big cats, including leopards, wander in the park, ready to pounce on the sick or young wildebeests and zebras. One of the top spots to witness leopards is Seronera Valley.
However, don’t forget to look up, as these leopards usually like to keep an eye on potential prey or even relish them from atop trees. Mostly, they like to laze among the branches of Acacia, Kigelia, and sausage trees in the region.
They can also be seen near the river beds of the Serengeti.
3. Kruger National Park, South Africa
In South Africa, one of the most promising places to see leopards is in Kruger National Park. This park has the most diverse range of wildlife on the continent, including leopards.
The Sabi Sand, a collection of exclusive private reserves on Kruger National Park’s boundary, has the highest density of these species. It has more than 50 leopards living in an area of 100 square kilometres.
Londolozi, in the Sabi Sand private reserve, is one of the most famous and has the highest population of leopards. This area is ideal for leopards as it is surrounded by lush vegetation, high-branched trees, and an abundance of prey like monkeys, impalas, bushbuck, and more.
At night, safari drives are allowed near Sand River and Londolozi, where you can capture every opportunity for a leopard sighting.
4. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Located in Eastern Zambia in the Luangwa Valley, South Luangwa National Park has one of the highest populations of leopards in Africa. The area is aptly named the Valley of Leopards, as it boasts the continent’s highest concentration of these elegant cats.
The abundance of leopards is mainly due to the wealth of prey available in the park. Another reason is the dense woodland habitat, which proves to be perfect for ambush attacks.
People believe that the leopards of South Luangwa are particularly bold and they can see them lounging on top of trees during the daytime. The national park also allows night drives, thereby increasing your chance of watching a leopard in action after dark.
It is recommended to visit South Luangwa National Park in the dry season (August to October) when leopards prey on animals that assemble near waterholes.
5. Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Although there are several destinations to spot leopards in Botswana, like Savuti and Linyanti reserves, Moremi Game Reserve tops the list. This reserve is located in the eastern section of the Okavango Delta, a highlight of Botswana’s wildlife.
Moremi also protects part of the Delta area, but instead of going in too deep, keep an eye out for leopards on its fringes. On the eastern side, the Khwai River has permanent water pools and attracts plenty of animals like monkeys, antelopes, birds, rodents, and more. Here, leopards thrive in the thick woodland and hunt down animals along the river floodplains.
The continent of Africa offers great destinations to observe leopards in their natural habitat. However, do keep in mind that leopard sightings are not always guaranteed. It is best to plan and consult with your guide before embarking to make the most of your safari experience.
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