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The African Leopard

The African leopard is one of the smallest of the big cats. There are nine different sub species of leopard, with all but the African species found in Asia. It used to reside all across eastern as well as southern Asia and Africa, with habitats from Siberia all the way to South Africa. However, due to hunting, loss of habitat due to human encroachment and other reasons, its numbers have greatly declined and now it is on near threatened conservation status.

Leopards have a long body with a relatively large skull. Although very visually similar to the Jaguar, it is much smaller. A leopard’s fur has rosettes like a jaguar, but are densely packed and smaller. While a jaguar has centralized spots, a leopard usually does not. Animals that are very dark to completely black are more commonly recognized as a panther.

While their numbers have declined, in the wild they can be very successful as a species. They are opportunistic when it comes to hunting and can eat a variety of different prey and can consume anything they are able to catch or steal from another predator. They can run very fast for an animal of this size, up to 36 mph. They have the uncanny ability to climb trees, even while carrying a big carcass as much or more than their own body weight. They are notoriously stealthy and this is one of the reasons why they are such successful hunters. They can live anywhere from rainforests to deserts and are very adaptable.

The African leopard is a solitary animal and very elusive. They are mostly nocturnal, so if you have the opportunity to go out on an African safari, try to find one that does night and evening observations. During the day, when they are sleeping and most vulnerable, they are usually hiding high up in scrub trees, often with remnants of their most recent prey. In addition to being fast animals, the are able to leap over twenty feet ina horizontal direction and almost ten feet straight up, allowing them to escape from any predators quickly and easily. They are very strong swimmers and don’t mind the water. They have a number of different sounds, from ‘sawing’ sounds, meows and even roars on occasion.

The African Leopard does have a lot of competition when it comes to shelter and food, competing with lions, hyenas and wild dogs. They often go after much smaller prey, because these are not always sought after by lions and other competing predators. While in the savannahs and open areas they have to compete but when it comes to those individuals that live in forested areas, they are at the top of the food chain.

As far as their interactions with humans, it is very rare that a leopard, African or otherwise will go after man. They are shy, hunt mostly at night and a healthy leopard would rather hunt for its food. Only if they are sick, injured or when their natural prey is limited would they resort to attacking humans. There have been a couple of extreme occurrences in India, with one leopard killing over 125 people, the other over 400. Jim Corbett, big game hunter and naturalist took care of both of them. Over all, the leopard is wary of man and has more to worry about from man than the other way around.

You can find out much more information about the African leopard from numerous online resources. What you are probably wondering now is where in Southern Africa are you most likely to see one, so you can plan your trip accordingly.

One of the best places to see not just the African leopard, but all the other members of the Big Five is the Kruger National Park in South Africa. This park is huge and encompasses a wide range of habitats. It is approximately 380 kilometers in length, averages 60km wide and covers almost two million hectares.

There are also many different guided and self guided tours of the park, as well as a number of different safaris to choose from.
The Pilanesberg, Kalahari, Hluhluwe and Karoo National Parks are a few of the many others to choose from. Some of the private game preserves that offer views of leopards are the Londolizi Private Preserve, Sabi Sabi, Shamwari, and Singita Preserves to name a few. In Tanzania there is the Ngorongoro Crater area, Matobo Hills in Zimababwe, and of course the Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa, where you may even be able to book a safari on elephant back.

The African leopard is a majestic animal, solitary, shy and doesn’t like interactions with man or other predators. It would prefer to run away from problems, which is why some other animals take its food sometimes. When it has a chance, it will store its prey in trees, sometime leaving it for later to make sure that it is still there.