While living in South Africa, my husband and I just loved going to the game parks to seek out the “Big 5”. When we had a long weekend and time off from embassy work, we either caught a short flight or drove to the nearby game parks. We took full advantage of being near to Kruger Park, Namibia and Zimbabwe and it was ALWAYS an adventurous and overly exciting trip.
As the sun rose, we started out on game drives and continued all day until after sunset. We would move from camp to camp to try to get a glimpse of the mighty “Big 5”. Known as some of the most elusive animals in Africa, Leopards are often the last of the Big Five to be crossed off the list. Even after multiple game drives, many people come away without seeing them. That’s because leopards aren’t usually out and about during daytime hours — and if they are, they are probably up in a tree eating or sleeping.
Improving your chances of seeing a leopard involves a bit of luck, and a bit of strategy. You have to be in the right place at the right time, but you also have to go where they are plentiful. While we can’t help you track their movements or make you get out of bed early in the morning, we can offer some advice on where to find them. Here are 10 of the best places to see leopards in Africa.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
This might seem like an obvious choice given the park’s prestige, but it’s definitely one of the best places to spot leopards. The park has one of the highest concentrations of leopards in Africa, as do the adjoining game reserves. Londolozi, inside Sabi Sand Private Reserve, is one of several areas that has a high leopard population, with more than 50 leopards living in a 100 square km area. Sometimes the reserve has over 700 individual sightings per year.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta is one of the largest inland deltas in the world and is home to over 200,000 large mammals. Of course, many of these animals end up as dinner for the Delta’s leopards. Although the area is large, it’s not necessary to go deep inside to find leopards, as most of them live near the forested areas on the edge of the delta.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Leopards are actually the most common big cat in Tanzania, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to spot. The main draw of the Serengeti is the Great Migration, which gives the leopards and other big cats plenty of prize targets. You likely won’t see a leopard chasing down a wildebeest like a cheetah or lion might do, but if you look up in the acacia trees, you may just spot one with an impala or smaller prey in its grip.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
This national park is the southernmost of the three large national parks in Zambia. The park’s population of animals like impala and crocodile are the perfect snack for leopards. South Luangwa allows night drives, making it easier to spot leopards when they normally stalk their prey. It doesn’t hurt that the park has one of the highest concentrations of leopards in Africa as well.
Kalahari Desert, Namibia
The wide-open terrain of the Kalahari Desert makes leopards somewhat easier to spot than it would be to see them in the thick savanna or forests of other parks. The desert also has limited places for the leopards to get water, so they congregate by watering holes, which is a good place to find them. The Kalahari spans Botswana and South Africa, giving safari goers even more places to see the animals. Etosha National Park is also a great place to spot leopards if you happen to be in Namibia.
Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
This park is better known for the thousands of flamingos that flock there, but it’s also home to plenty of other animals, including leopards. There aren’t many lions in this park, giving leopards greater access to prey. The park is one of the few places where leopards are regularly seen wandering around during the daytime. The fever trees around Lake Nakuru are popular hangouts for leopards.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Located in the northwest of Botswana, this popular park is an ideal place to spot leopards. The leopards in Chobe are accustomed to safari vehicles don’t take off when they see humans, making them easier to spot.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa/Botswana
Another great option to see leopards in South Africa (and Botswana) is Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This park is actually comprised of two parks which straddle the two countries’ borders: Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa, and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. There is an abundance of leopards in the park, and when the dry riverbeds fill up with water, leopards are usually not far behind. The numerous acacia trees within the park are excellent places to spot them.
Masai Mara, Kenya
The Masai Mara is undoubtedly one of the best places to see all wildlife in Africa, and that includes leopards, of which there is a large population. Most leopard sightings usually occur around the park’s Mara and Talek rivers, away from the distinctive savanna the Masai Mara is known for.
Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
Located near the border of Botswana, South Africa’s Madikwe Reserve is another great option for seeing leopards and is easily accessible from Johannesburg. Heading to Madikwe instead of Kruger also lends itself to more intimate experiences with leopards, since there are fewer safari vehicles on the road.
As we gear up for our next trip to South Africa, we’ll definitely be in search of the elusive leopard so we once again can cross that off our “Big 5” list.