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23 March 2020

The 5 best places to see leopard in Africa

The most elusive of the Big Five members, leopards can be tricky to spot. Here’s our guide to the best places to observe leopards, to increase your chances of encountering all the Big Five during your Africa safari.

With incredibly effective camouflage and a preference for hunting at night, leopards are usually the most difficult of safari animals to see in the wild. From the remote national parks of Zambia to the famous reserves in South Africa, here are our favourite places in Africa to see leopards:

1. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

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The South Luangwa is situated in the east of Zambia, along the Luangwa Valley. It combines pristine dense habitat with reliable water sources to make the perfect balance for a remote wildlife hotspot. It’s also known as the Valley of the Leopard – an appropriate reference to its large concentration of elusive, spotted big cats. Although we can never guarantee a specific wildlife sighting, we’ve yet to have an experience beaten by the South Luangwa when it comes to sighting leopard. It is believed that there’s one leopard for every two square kilometres, so if you head out on a night drive – luckily camps in the South Luangwa offer game drives after dark – you are bound to come across evidence that you are indeed in leopard country.

With no shortage of camps available here, we suggest staying at either Puku Ridge or a Robin Pope Safaris property, such as Nkwali.

2. Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

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If the South Luangwa has the densest population of leopard, then the Sabi Sands has the most famous population – there’s even a website dedicated to them! Again, a combination of fantastic factors makes this private reserve a leopard-mecca. Wedged against the unfenced border with Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sands is dominated by a handful of luxury lodges that have made it their mission to offer outstanding accommodation to go with the phenomenal, and frequent, Big Five sightings.

Undoubtedly, if leopards are your priority, you have to consider staying at one of the Londolozi lodges – how about uber-luxurious Founders or Varty? The ‘Leopards of Londolozi’ have been well documented for years, as attested by countless photographs, studies, and the interest of wildlife camera crews.

3. Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

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Located where the flowing waterways of the Okavango Delta slow to form longstanding lagoons and rivers, the Moremi Game Reserve is the oldest protected section of this part of Botswana, and it really is the envy of the whole country for its substantial big cat sightings. Thanks to good year-round game, the leopards here are well fed and have no need to wander in search of food. Although Moremi is a public national park, we recommend staying at Sanctuary’s Chief’s Camp, which is set on its own private island surrounded on all sides by the floodwaters of the Delta. This island is considered one of the best places to view the Big Five – lion and leopard especially!

4. The Maasai Mara and Serengeti eco-system, Kenya/Tanzania

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Typically, any wildlife guide to Africa will make mention of either the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti, as this connected eco-system is teeming with mindboggling varieties of animals. It’s the stomping ground of the Great Migration and naturally predators follow the herds, causing exciting battles between the huge prides of lion that reside in the pathway of the wildebeest. To see leopard in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara, however, you should usually avoid the open plains where the lion and cheetah dominate. Instead, look up towards the acacia trees, as leopards often spend their days draped along the tree branches.

For your best chance of seeing leopards in the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti, take a look at Serian in the Mara North Conservancy and Nomad's Serengeti Safari Camp.

5. Laikipia, Kenya

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Last, but most certainly not least, on our list of places to see leopards in Africa, the region of Laikipia in Central Kenya is a fascinating destination. It’s only recently that Laikipia has arrived on the hotlist for spotting leopard, as last year an extremely rare black leopard was finally photographed. Dismissed by many as just a myth, this elusive leopard made quite the appearance, first to renowned wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, and then to the world via the resulting media storm. YZ expert Jesse missed seeing the black leopard by just one game drive; you can read more about it here. To increase your chance of seeing a rare black leopard, there really is only one place where we recommend you stay – and that is Laikipia Wilderness Camp.

And finally… some fun facts about leopards:

  • Leopards are nocturnal animals – they are most active at night, in search of food. During the day, they spend most of their time camouflaged in trees or hiding in caves.
  • Leopards are very solitary and spend most of their lives alone.
  • To tell the difference between a cheetah and a leopard, look at the spots! Leopards have rosette spots on the body and solid black spots on the legs, head, and side. Unlike cheetahs, they do not have black facial stripes.
  • A leopard’s tail is almost as long as its entire body. This helps with balance and enables it to make fast sharp turns.
  • Male leopards can be up to 50 per cent larger than female leopards.

If you are interested in a safari that focuses on Africa’s Big Five wildlife, in particular leopards, and would like more information, feel free to contact us here. Alternatively, please take a look at our guides below for more inspiration: