African Safari blog

Some of Africa’s most interesting animals and where best to find them – Leopard

African Wildlife

These magnificent creatures have vanished from at least 49 percent of their historic range in Africa and are listed as Vulnerable on South Africa’s National List of Threatened or Protected Species (2007). Thankfully the Convention on the International Trade Endangered Species (CITES) prohibits commercial trade and also limits the export and import of skins and hunting trophies.

Leopards are solitary, territorial animals who meet for the purposes of propagation. Cubs mature at about two years old and become independent of their mothers at which time they must establish a territory for themselves. Mothers have been known to allow their young into their territory and to cooperatively hunt with them and fathers seem to recognize their offspring. Other than that there is no familial love lost among this species!

Territorial Battle
Indeed we were witness to a territorial fight between two half-sisters. We found a 2-year old leopard strolling nonchalantly along the road, her shoulders moving rhythmically like pistons. She had just been made independent and thus in search of a territory of her own, sniffing up the local news and spreading her scent by rubbing her cheeks on various tree branches. Unfortunately the area had already been claimed by her 6-year old half-sister which her inexperience led her to challenge! The trespasser had been spotted by the local resident from her advantaged position on a 3-metre high branch. Amid growls and yowls, the frenzied pair streaked past the jeep and its open-mouthed occupants, some of whom had the presence of mind to keep the cameras rolling. The spectacle ended as quickly as it began with the weaker of the two (the 2-year old) beating a hasty retreat into the bush, leaving us pondering the result of the skirmish. Had the youngster been fatally injured? It appeared that neither of the protagonists was holding anything back!

Thankfully the following day we located the vanquished young leopard who seemed to have suffered only a few superficial wounds from yesterday’s skirmish!

More Characteristics
Males tend to have much larger territories than females and generally include the territories of several females.

Leopards are much more secretive and elusive than either lion or cheetah as they prefer rocky and/or densely bushed habitats such as that found along riverbanks. Their lifespan in the wild is between 10 and 15 years

Leopards have the ability to kill animals much larger than themselves and even carry prey three times their own weight up a tree to keep it safe from other non-tree-climbing competitors such as hyena. Being opportunistic, they may kill more than one prey animal at a time and store the prey at different locations, which they can revisit over time.

They are also powerful swimmers, though not particularly fond of water, can run at speeds up to 58 kilometers per hour and are capable of remarkable leaps – over 6 meters!

Leopards have white tipped tails, which can be used to provide cubs with direction when moving through their territory. They have binocular vision and their night vision is six to eight times better than that of humans, assisted in part by the narrow white line under their eyes which helps reflect light.

Although their usual sound is a more rasping noise, the leopard is one of only four cats that can roar! They can also growl and purr (though purring is usually just between mother and cubs!!)

Leopard Distinguished from Cheetah

They are often mixed up with the cheetah but with the following distinguishing features

• The cheetah has simple black spots compared to the leopard’s rosette shaped spots
• The cheetah has longer legs and a skinny body that is built for speed, the leopard has a more sturdy body and thus is more suited to stealth and opportunistic predation
• The cheetah is diurnal while the leopard is largely nocturnal
• Leopards are tree-climbers, while cheetahs are ground dwellers
• The leopard has a distinctive necklace of spots which is absent in the cheetah
• And the clincher is the cheetah’s unmistakable black tear ducts.

However, both cheetah and leopard have a pale blond undercarriage which is designed to dissipate the heat from the ground.

Best Place to Find Them
The Sabi Sands is definitely the top destination for African leopard viewing, where we have been fortunate enough to see at least one leopard on every game drive during some of our visits. It is home to many leopards including Kashane, Dewane, Torchwood and Ravenscourt (very impressive males), Tlangisa, Metsi, Tasselberry, Hlabankunzi, Scotia and Xikavi. Leopards are identifiable by their spotted whisker bases, which along with their rosette patterns, are unique to each leopard.
Other private reserves adjacent to the Kruger are also good location to find leopard.


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