Leopard in a tree, Africa

Guide to Big Cat Safaris: Leopards & snow leopards

Handsome and elusive, leopards are found in more diverse habitats in Africa and Asia than any other big cat.

Leopard in a tree, Africa

© Jeff&Wendy

A touch of dappled magic

Leopards are found in more diverse habitats in Africa and Asia than any other big cat. Their territories range from snowy mountains to rainforests to savannah grasslands and desert. Some even live very close to urban centres, such as those cats in Sanjay Gandhi National Park near Mumbai in India. There are thought to be around 10,000 leopards in India (and about 5000 snow leopards in total in Central Asia), and perhaps 700,000 in Africa.

Leopards are known for being strong climbers, so they will often be seen high up, perhaps in a tree or on rocks with great vantage points. They often take any kill up a tree to protect it from other predators. They tend to be solitary creatures and most often seen at night, though daytime sightings do happen. That fabulous coat of theirs does, however, camouflage them very well, so chances are you’ll end up driving right past one unless you have sharp eyes!

Up a tree just metres from us was a sleeping leopard. What a very special moment. We watched and waited for about 10 minutes before it stretched and stared back. It slowly stood up and without making a sound gracefully descended the tree. As it disappeared into the undergrowth we could track its movement by the warning cries of the birds. A perfect end to a perfect first day.

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Leopard at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe © OProsicky,Shutterstock

The experience of seeing leopards and snow leopards in the wild

Every experience of spotting a leopard is different depending on where you are, what season it is and what time of day you’re looking for them.

Two things that you need whatever your circumstance, however, is patience and an eagle eye. They are very good at keeping still and blending into their environment, and rarely make it easy for you to find them. On the plus side, though, they are not usually very skittish so will often hang around to be admired if you’re quiet and they’re comfortable – they are cats, after all!

The best places to see leopards in the wild

In India, you generally have more chance of seeing leopards where there is no significant tiger population. We’d therefore recommend that if seeing leopards is your main goal, some of the smaller parks could be better than the larger Indian reserves, and possibly best of all is the Jawai Hills in Rajasthan.

In Africa, they really are everywhere but there are some reserves that are particularly known for their leopard sightings. Possibly the best plan is to decide what else you are keen to see, then talk to us about an itinerary which would bring together your best chances of seeing leopards plus including your other interests.

Since leopards are found in more places than any other big cat, this list of places includes just some of our recommendations. We’re always happy to advise.

The best time to see leopards and snow leopards

SNOW LEOPARDS, INDIA: The best time to see snow leopards in India is in the mid-winter months from January to March – but beware, it’s cold!
LEOPARDS, INDIA: As with tigers, your very best chance of seeing these big cats is in the hottest, driest season (say March to June), but much of this time tends to be unbearable for most travellers, so we recommend February to April as the best months to come. However, you might see leopards any time from October to June.

LEOPARDS, AFRICA: You can see African leopards all year round, though the hot, drier seasons of each destination are the best times (see the ‘Best Times’ table).

The number of leopards we saw was amazing. We saw at least one on most days at South Luangwa, and some cubs at Lower Zambezi

The Tribes Foundation

Simply by booking with Tribes, you are making a difference. Every booking helps with The Tribes Foundation, the charity we back with admin and funds. Most clients give additional donations which we always put to very good use with one of the wildlife, environmental or social projects we support.

Travel with Respect for the Earth © KC,Shutterstock

Seeing a leopard at night as we paddled down the tranquil river at Satpura in India was just magical.”

Conservation

The leopard is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Unsurprisingly, their biggest threat comes from humans: their habitat is taken from them and they are killed for eating livestock, plus they are killed for their body parts, especially their beautiful coat.
If you want to help leopards, various charities work with them to help reduce or mediate in human-wildlife conflict, such as the African Wildlife Foundation.

Seeing snow leopards in the wild has been a long-held ambition of my wife and me and this trip delivered big time, with no less than four separate sightings. Expectations were low given the difficulties involved and the rarity of the animal but they were well exceeded.

Snow leopard hunting
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