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How and where to see leopard in Botswana

Leopards are notoriously illusive, and so are on many visitor’s safari bucket list. If you are keen to spot a leopard, then a Botswana safari is a fantastic choice as they are the most common cat here.

Richard

Richard

African Specalist
Published on

20 Jul 2020

Read time

A Leopard

Leopards are notoriously illusive, and so are on many visitor’s safari bucket list. If you are keen to spot a leopard, then a Botswana safari is a fantastic choice as they are the most common cat here.

My initial idea for this blog was to give an overview of the best places and camps to see leopard. However, being lucky enough to stay at most camps in Botswana and on several occasions, I found it difficult to pin down one area or camp which stood out from the rest.

The truth of it is that Northern Botswana in particular has an incredibly high number and density of leopards, which in my eyes makes this incredible country one of the best places in Africa to spend time with them up there with the Luangwa Valley in Zambia.


Shinde  Leopard
Leopard in the Okavango Delta

Where: Okavango Delta

Leopards are found throughout and 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.

My Hotspots in the Okavango Delta

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.

Also, unlike in the national parks and reserves, night drives are permitted in Khwai community concession and the private concessions.

In the Kwara concession, both Splash Camp and Kwara Camp are owned and run by Kwando Safaris who have a guide and tracker set up. This is rare for camps in Botswana where you usually just have a guide. Two pairs of trained eyes looking greatly increases your chances of coming across and spotting sightings of interest.

Khwai is similar and although the camps are not using guides and trackers, the Khwai community concession is open to a number of camps and self-drive vehicles.

The increased numbers make the leopards more comfortable around vehicles and greatly improves the chances of coming across them or someone else who has seen them. Camps operating in this area are Machaba Camp, Little Machaba, Khwai tented, Khwai Bush Camp and Khwai River Camp, as well as the community run campsites for self-drives.

Leopard
Leopard in tree

When: the dry season

I often hear how Botswana is best visited between July and October and in general I disagree as the wildlife in the Okavango Delta is incredible all year round. However, In the case of spotting leopards I would agree.

Leopards are illusive animals usually hunting under the cover of darkness or during dusk and dawn. Their behaviour makes them difficult animals to find and are often only spotted due to a bit of luck and/or good tracking skills.

From November through to April time Botswana receives its annual rains, with plenty of surface water many of the prey species are dispersed thinly due to the readily available water everywhere. The grasses are tall and the trees and bushes are green, thick and lush making the spotting of shy animals like leopards even more difficult.

In my experience as a guide and guest, July through to the end of October/beginning of November is optimum and the later in this period you can travel the better. As the grasses and foliage begin to die back the terrain becomes a lot more exposed. This combined with fewer water sources the chances of seeing the usually hidden leopard is much higher.

Understanding leopard behaviour

It is a common misconception that leopards spend the majority of their time when they are not hunting resting over a branch up a tree.

Although this is not strictly false, they mainly use the height advantage when they have already made a kill and are keeping it out of reach from other predators.

With this in mind its essential to make sure you are also looking under suitable bushes and also on termite mounts and other raised areas. In areas with few trees such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve this is particularly important.

Many of Botswana’s predators, especially in the wetter areas to the North tend to be in the higher densities in similar areas. From my experience these areas tend to be North of Chiefs Island and then down the Eastern side of the Okavango Delta, these areas have more expanses of dry land with year-round permanent flowing tributaries providing both water and prey.


 Leopard Stalking
Leopard stalking

In conclusion Botswana has a great leopard population throughout and really is a strong hold for the species. Going on safari to any of the Northern Botswana camps you would be unlucky not to have a leopard sighting if not, multiple sightings.

However, if you are particularly fond of leopards and want to base you safari around the best places and times to see them, follow the advice above or give me a ring to arrange a ‘leopard’ safari for you.

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  • Richard

    Richard

    African Specalist

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    Peter

    Africa Specialist

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