The Best Places to see leopards
They’re the epitome of feline grace, power and beauty
You don’t have to be a cat person to love leopards. They’re in a category all of their own, thanks to their incomparable beauty and beguiling nature. Of all of Africa’s big cats they are without a doubt the most sought-after, and elusive, making them top of the wildlife viewing “bucket list” for every discerning safari fan. Let’s find out what makes leopards so special…
Top of the list of appealing things about leopards is that spectacular coat. It’s been a human fashion statement for as long as there have been humans, thanks to the irresistible combination of colours and those striking black rosettes. Coat colour can vary from a pale yellow to a dark golden and every shade in between, and those rosettes vary in shape too, depending on where in Africa you are.
Leopards are ambush predators, preferring stealth to speed, although they can clock and impressive 58km an hour when needed. They prefer hunting at night, but are just as likely to be seen during the day.
They are solitary cats, prefering their own company to that of other leopards. This reminds us most of our own domestic cats, who also tend to be loners. The only time you’ll see more than one leopard at a time is when they are mating (they are champions at this, doing it virtually every 15 minutes for up to five days), or when females have cubs (the youngsters become independent only after a year or so has passed).
“The leopard is my favourite African animal,” says Stanley Safaris founder, Shaun Stanley. “There’s nothing else that compares to its beauty and its ‘presence’ and seeing them in their natural habitat is always a huge privilege. For me, the leopard is the ultimate combination of effortless grace, immeasurable beauty and incredible power. It’s hard to beat that.”
While they’re classed as big cats, they’re the smallest of this grouping that includes lions, jaguars, cheetah and tigers, but easily the most agile, with legendary tree-climbing skills. Males get a lot bigger than females, both in size and weight, hitting as much as 70cm at the shoulder and weighing in at up to 90kg. Females are more delicate in appearance and rarely get heavier than 60kg.
“They are also incredibly strong, being able to hoist more than three times their own body weight vertically up a tree,” explains Shaun.
Again like their domestic cousins, leopards are fond of vocalising their emotional state. They growl when they’re angry or disturbed and purr when they’re contented, staying in touch with other leopards in their area with rasping “coughs” that sound like a saw being drawn through wood.
Leopards are born with blue eyes which change colour as they get older, ranging in hue from pale amber to green. They can see seven times better than humans can in the dark thanks to specially adapted retinas. They’re also expert navigators and have an amazing ability to orientate themselves and return to their “home” range.
Leopards are under threat across Africa, thanks largely to human expansion, loss of habitat and the illegal wildlife trade, being hunted for their coats, teeth and claws which are used both in traditional medicine and tribal costume.
Talk to us about the best places to see leopards in Africa and support us in helping to conserve and protect this magnificent predator.