Is seeing leopards top of your wildlife list - here's our guide to some of the best places in Africa to see them.
08 Feb 2021
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One of the big 5, leopards seems to be at the top of most safari goes sighting list. However, they don’t make it easy. Seeing a leopard is a truly magical experience and is one of those sightings which always gets your heart rate going, even if it’s the same leopard which you have been watching for the past hour or already seen around you camp a few times, when it reappears you get the same rush as when you first had the encounter.
Leopards are illusive and their behaviour makes them more difficult to spot than most of Africa’s large carnivores. It is a common misconception that leopards spend the majority of their time when up a tree rest across a branch, although not strictly false they mainly use a height advantage once they have made a kill and to keep this out of the way of other predators. When looking for leopards it is important to look under suitable bushes, at the base of termite mounds and anywhere that gives the animals cover but also a good vantage point for safety.
Top Five Leopard Hotspots
If leopards are high up on your tick list, then here are a few destinations that will provide the maximum chances of having an encounter with these awesome animals. But remember, safaris are a game of luck and nothing is guaranteed so you can increase your chances by going to the right camps and areas but at the end of the day you need to be in the right place at the right time.
Only a 50 minute-flight from Johannesburg, Sabi Sands is one of the top places to view the ‘big 5’ especially leopards. Bordering the famous Kruger National Park, this 65,000-hectare (650km2) reserve gives an amazingly high chance of incredible leopard sightings.
What makes the Sabi Sands so good for leopards is their relaxed behaviour. Hunting in the reserve has been banned for a long time, therefore the leopards are comfortable getting close to the game drive vehicles and much less skittish and illusive.
A favourite camp in this area would be Notten’s Bush Camp. Offering a truly authentic safari experience this camp is relatively small and intimate. With 9 suites offering both indoor and outdoor showers and a private decking overlooking a large plain and waterhole, this is the perfect spot for a few nights rest and relaxation whilst taking in the incredible wildlife.
A Botswana safari is top of many people’s list and if you are looking for leopards, they found throughout the Okavango Delta. With its riverine environment combining tall grasses, dense large trees and high prey numbers makes it the perfect habitat to hide, hunt and thrive in the numbers they do today. Countless times I have stayed in different parts of the delta, be it in the west, north, east, south or in the centre have had multiple leopard sightings in the space of three or four hours, when I think back to these game drives in more detail they all had one thing in common, the time of year. The dry season is the time to visit if you want the best chances of seeing leopards.
Some of my best leopard sightings have been in Khwai and the Kwara concession. I think this is most likely down to the numbers of eyes looking for them and the fact that unlike in the national parks and reserves, night drives are permitted which is when leopards are at their most active. There are a number of good camps we would recommend in these areas. In the Kwara concession both Splash and Kwara are great and in Khwai, Machaba, Little Machaba and Khwai Tented Camp are all brilliant options.
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3. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Tanzania safaris are famous for the wildebeest migration, but the Serengeti National Park is also one of the big cat hotspots of Southern Africa. Whether you are in the North surrounded by rocky outcrops and woodlands or amongst the acacias and sausage trees in the Seronera Valley you will have a high chance of seeing one of the resident leopards.
With a high density of other carnivores such a lion and hyenas the leopards of the Serengeti tend to keep a low profile. Being a relatively illusive animal anyway this can make finding leopards a little trickier, however with a little perseverance this will usually pay off. In terms of times of year its always good to try and follow the migration, where there are prey animals, the big cats tend to follow. It is also often easier to stop leopards in the drier periods when the grasses are lower and the vegetation is less dense.
I would recommend any of the Singitia or Lemala properties if you are heading to the Serengeti. Well established and with brilliant guiding their reputation for incredible game viewing is well warranted.
Like the Serengeti, the Masai Mara is a mixture of riverine forest, rocky outcrops and open grasslands offering perfect leopard habitat. This combined with the Mara being a popular safari destination results in many of the large cats being used to higher numbers of vehicles and less shy than leopards in other area.
There are a number of camps that offer good chances off seeing leopard, a good start would be either of the Governors Camps for your Kenya safari. Set on the banks of the Mara river these camps offer access to the wildebeest crossings, open grasslands and the riverine forest lining the river itself. The terrain provides plenty of game viewing and particularly high chances of seeing leopard.
Another camp I would suggest is Kichehe Bush Camp in the Olari Motorogi conservancy. This area is much quieter due to the limit of bed numbers allowed. Although the numbers are lower it still offers just as good game viewing, however with fewer vehicles you may need to spend a little more time looking.
My memories of this area start when I was about 11, self-driving with my family through Southern Africa was a yearly adventure and South Luangwa was always built into the itinerary. Known as the “Valley of the leopards” they are almost a guaranteed sighting. Leopards here are abundant and with the ability to go on night drives your chances of seeing a leopard are almost guaranteed. The park is the perfect habitat for these majestic cats with large sausage trees, ebony and acacias - it’s almost built for the leopard. There are a number of stunning camps and lodges in this area you can stay at, two which I would recommend are Mchenja and Mfuwe Lodge.
Although I have only handpicked a few areas which maximise your chances of seeing a leopard, although elusive, leopards are numerous throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and most destinations will have times of year and particular camps and lodges that will improve your chances of spending time viewing these illusive animals.
If you’d like help planning a safari that maximizes your chances of seeing leopards or the Big Five, call us today on 01768 603 715 – our team of experts would love to help.