With a weight range of 40 to 60 kilograms, it is by far the lightest of Africa’s famous Big 5 animals – the others being the mighty lion, and megafauna: the elephant, buffalo and rhino. However, a sighting of the elusive Leopard on a Kruger safari is the ultimate heavyweight Big 5 wildlife sighting. Here are some interesting facts about Leopards.
Searching for Leopard in Kruger National Park
Visitors to Kruger Gate Hotel, situated right near the Paul Kruger Gate are often lucky when it comes to Leopard sightings. This southern region of the Park, around the confluence of the Sabi and Sand Rivers is ideal Leopard domain and an excellent choice for a Big 5 safari. Several individuals in the area are unfussed at the presence of open-air safari vehicles, so it is not uncommon to get great views of Leopard lounging in trees or strolling through relatively open areas.
Unlike Lion, Leopards are solitary big cats and are only seen together on rare occasions as a couple during mating encounters or as mother caring for cubs under a year-old. Their quiet habits, silent and svelte grace and ingeniously camouflaged coats add to their mystique and make these cats particularly hard to spot in the dense Kruger wilds.
The Trials of Life for a Leopard
Protected from hunting and trapping, the Park has a healthy population of Leopards, but it is not an easy life. They face fierce territorial competition from Lion, Hyena and even, Cheetah. A male Leopard has large range often overlapping with the territories of up to three females. Leopards are non-seasonal breeders, so mating can occur at any time of year. The female Leopard is the sole caregiver and provider for her cubs. She will find a protected lair to give birth and typically has two to three cubs who stay closely with her for the first year of life so that she can protect them and teach them how to hunt for themselves. It has been observed that female Leopards remain on friendly terms with their offspring and will greet them lovingly if there’s are chance encounters long into their adult lives. Having a devoted Leopard mum is essential because Lions and Hyenas will not hesitate to kill and eat young Leopards! How long do leopards live? If they survive the intense trials of childhood and youth, an adult Leopard may live for 12 to 15 years in the wild.
Masters of the Flexitarian Diet
One of the reasons for the success of the Leopard as a species is their unmatched adaptability combined with hunting prowess. Research gathered on Leopard prey is astonishing, they will eat anything from termites to catfish, turtle doves to guinea fowl, monitor lizards to baboons, warthogs and genets, to the calves of giraffe and buffalo. In the Kruger National Park, with its high concentration of antelope, the Leopard’s most common prey includes impala, duiker, and steenbok. It is an extraordinary, raw power predator, capable of taking down an animal much bigger and heavier than it is. Leopards hunt through stealth, either lying in wait and ambushing or stalking and making an explosive, deadly charge. Small prey is often killed quickly with a lethal bite to the back of the neck and larger prey with a suffocating bite to the throat. To keep large prey safe from thieving Lion and Hyena, Leopards often hoist the carcass high up into the branches of trees. It’s an incredible feat of strength and agility, and no other African big cat can do this.
The Allure of Impossible Beauty
But it just may be the sheer beauty of the Leopard that makes it one of the most coveted Kruger National Park sightings. It’s rich, luxurious coat of gold is exquisitely patterned with black rosettes on the body and black spots on the head and legs. The body is lithe, well-muscled, and full of grace. Its golden eyes, lined with black, are thrilling, fierce and mesmerizing. After a special leopard sighting right near the Paul Kruger Gate, one of our guests said: “I had this moment where I could not believe its beauty with my own eyes. I was literally stunned, looking at this amazing creature lounging on a tree branch. To say a leopard is “magnificent” is an understatement. You cannot compare looking at a leopard on a screen or page with seeing a leopard in the wild. I will never forget looking at that big cat in the eye. I felt like I saw the whole world, and it was beyond beautiful.”