Incredibly, the leopard wasn’t described scientifically until 1758. Although also inhabiting parts of Asia, it’s now known the leopard evolved in Africa, making the continent the obvious place to see these stunning creatures.
Well-camouflaged, solitary, and mainly nocturnal, the leopard is the hardest of the Big Five to encounter. The best place to look is generally the trees that stud Africa’s national parks, where both males and females like to rest.
Leopards are agile and strong enough to also hide their kills in the forks of tree branches. This helps them protect their kills from hyenas and lions, which would otherwise steal them. Travelers have had narrow escapes as chunks of meat have dropped from branches above them, so it’s always well worth keeping an eye on what’s above you on a safari! Unencumbered by a kill, leopards can leap ten feet straight up.
Their love of trees distinguishes them from cheetahs, as does the absence of the cheetah’s black ‘tear line’ markings. The spots of a leopard are also actually rosettes encircling a paler coloration, while they tend to be bulkier than cheetahs too.
Best known for their night-time hunting of medium-sized antelope such as springbok and impala, leopards are opportunistic and will stalk everything from monkeys and ground-dwelling birds to fish and even crabs. Each leopard has a territory of around 15 square miles in which it hunts. Its territory can be significantly larger when prey is hard to find.
Where to See Them
Leopards have one of the largest distributions of Africa’s big cats. The northern camps of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve are a great place to head in east Africa. In southern Africa, Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is difficult to match for leopard sightings, as is Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve.