The African leopard – A guide to spotting elusive cats in Africa

African leopard portrait in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

When on safari, everyone wonders whether they will be lucky enough to spot an African leopard. There’s nothing quite like seeing one of these big cats lounging up in the canopy of an acacia tree or watching one ambush its prey.

These elusive creatures are timid and masters of camouflage, allowing them to keep themselves well hidden. It’s both challenging and rewarding to get a glimpse of the African leopard – this is what makes leopards such a sought after sighting.

While there are leopards in Africa, there’s no guarantee that you’ll sight one of them on a safari. However, there are some reserves where your chances are higher. So keep reading to find out where the best places to spot leopards in Africa are.

Where Does One Find Leopards in Africa?

African leopard in dense bush

The answer to this question might seem simple, yet few people know where leopards live in Africa. One can find these big cats in 16 of the 54 African countries.

In Africa, leopards prefer to live in habitats with rocky terrain, dense bush, and woodlands. However, the African leopard is highly adaptable. Some leopards live in the savannas and semi-deserts of sub-Saharan Africa, and others in the more mountainous areas around Mount Kenya.

Are Leopards Endangered?

There is a lack of data on the actual number of leopards in Africa. Researchers and conservationists have sadly found that, in sub-Saharan Africa, the population has decreased by more than 30 percent in the last 25 years.

Based on research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organization classified the African leopard as vulnerable on its Red List.

This population decrease is primarily due to habitat loss, often fueled by human activity. Researchers estimate that the Panthera pardus pardus has lost between 48 and 67 percent of its original range on the African continent.

Another contributing factor is the decrease in prey population that this carnivore hunts. This loss is also due to shrinking habitat as well as the wild meat trade.

Best Place to See Leopards in Africa – 7 Secluded Spots

Leopards are majestic creatures. Their stealth, strength, speed, and beauty make them gems of the African continent. But they aren’t easily spotted. These seven reserves are your best bet when it comes to seeing the African leopard.

Sabi Sands of the Kruger National Park, South Africa

Leopard jumping over a river, Londolozi, South Africa

While African leopards are by no means restricted to national parks and game reserves, Sabi Sands is one of the top spots to watch them in their natural habitat.

Sabi Sands is a collection of exclusive private reserves along the west border of the Kruger National Park. It’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the best safari destinations in South Africa.

The area is home to some of the highest leopard densities in Africa, and is renowned for its decidedly skilled trackers who can read the signs of the wild like no other.

An ideal Sabi Sands spot for leopards is Londolozi. Set along the Sands River, this reserve contains lush vegetation and thick, high-branched trees – perfect for leopards hiding in wait for their next ambush.

It’s your best chance of easily finding leopards in South Africa, as over 50 leopards reside in the roughly 100 square kilometres of land. Plus, Londolozi lodges are exquisite.

The reserve took a compassionate approach towards leopard viewing some years ago. This has led to these big cats being very relaxed and approachable at close range.

This makes for spectacular photography opportunities. The guides are also allowed to take guests out at night, using spotlights to seek out the leopards.

South Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Out of all the national parks and game reserves on the continent, South Luangwa Valley is a favorite spot for leopard sightings. The setting is breathtaking, and the riverine area allows impressive game viewing not only for leopards but also animals of all shapes and sizes.

South Luangwa National Park is especially famous for its night drives. Since most big cats are active at night, the park offers the best chances to view leopards after dark.

The Okavango Delta, Botswana

Leopard and baby monkey in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango Delta of Botswana offers ideal leopard habitat. The waterways and forests surrounding the river floodplains are a favorite hangout spot for the leopards of this area.

The most famous place lies in the Moremi Game Reserve, especially around Mombo Camp. This magnificent setting has starred a few notable animal documentaries, including the “Eye of the Leopard” filmed by Dereck and Beverly Joubert.

Moremi reserve is also home to herds of elephant, buffalo, white rhino, and other African wildlife.

Masai Mara Reserve, Kenya

The Masai Mara is another fabulous destination for leopard lovers and a local favorite for BBC’s “Big Cat Diary” episodes.

The reserve has a sizable African leopard population, and the open grasslands make it easier to spot these spotted carnivores than in other, more heavily wooded areas. However, the most suitable sighting area lies along the Talek River, near Mara Intrepids Tented Camp.

Game viewing is excellent all year round here, though your chances of seeing African leopards might be even greater during the Great Wildebeest Migration (between mid-August and early November).

Another big plus about tracking leopards in the region is that these African cats have become quite comfortable with safari vehicles, due to the constant influx of safari-goers. So you might be lucky enough to get some incredible close-up shots.

Buffalo Springs National Reserve and Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Leopard in large acacia tree, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

While these two reserves may be in the same country as the Masai Mara, their landscapes are vastly different. Situated on either side of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, the wildlife refuges are dry and rocky, and off the beaten track in comparison to the grasslands of the Mara.

The flowing water attracts these large predators. And the vegetation of woodland and thorn bushes is good camouflage for elusive cats, making this prime leopard spotting territory.

You can learn all about the Samburu National Reserve here.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (Seronera area)

The park is not only world-renowned for its “endless plains.” It is also a leopard’s paradise as guides and visitors spot them almost daily.

In the center of this national park, one can find the Seronera Valley. This area, dotted with African acacia and sausage trees, is a popular lounging spot for many leopards.

Across the Serengeti savanna, you’ll see rocky outcrops rising from the grass. These also attract leopards wanting to laze in the sun. To the north of the reserve, you will find dense vegetation and a rocky terrain known as the Lobo area, another favorite leopard tracking spot.

Seronera’s only negative aspect is its overcrowding during high season, making it less pleasant for quality game viewing.

Overall, the area is sometimes reminiscent of Nairobi National Park, where it is not uncommon to find over 20 vehicles next to an animal of interest. While it becomes easier to see animals this way, it is a lot less exciting.

Okonjima Nature Reserve, Namibia

African leopard resting on a dead tree, Okonjima Nature Reserve, Namibia

This 20 000 ha sized reserve sits at the base of the Omboroko Mountains between Windhoek and northern Etosha National Park.

Okonjima is a sanctuary for big cats as it’s home to the AfriCat Foundation – a group that rehabilitates injured predators in the hope of releasing them back into the wild. These rehabilitated animals have radio collars, which makes tracking far easier.

The Kalahari Desert is another excellent place to spot leopards. The terrain and limited water sources make it more convenient to find these spotted cats.

Visit One of These Incredible Places to Spot an African Leopard

Spotting a lion or cheetah while on safari is incredibly exciting. Yet one can easily argue that catching a glimpse of the mysterious African leopard tops them all.

Whether you favor Kenya or South Africa, you’re far more likely to spot this elusive big cat at any one of these national parks listed above.

Want to experience a leopard sighting in Africa for yourself? Then have a look at these African safari deals and get booking.

Safari njema! 😉

3 thoughts on “The African leopard – A guide to spotting elusive cats in Africa”

  1. Thanks a lot for your precious feedback Sandy, appreciate it as always! 🙂 I had never really heard of the Manyeleti Game Reserve before, to be honest with you.

    Glad you enjoyed the post Christine, thanks! 🙂 😉

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