Outdoorphoto Blog » Where to see leopards

Where to see leopards

BEGINNER

…in the Kruger National Park

 

In two of our previous posts we shared with you our top five roads to drive to see wild dogs and cheetah in the Kruger National Park. You can read them here: https://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/blog/spot-a-pack-of-wild-dogs/ and here: https://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/blog/spot-a-cheetah-in-the-kruger-national-park/.

 


A leopard looks right at the camera from the safety of a marula tree on the S14 Fayi Loop.

 

But where should you drive if you’re looking for leopards?
Although leopards are shy, solitary creatures, they are actually much easier to find than wild dogs and cheetahs in the Kruger National Park. The reason for this is simple: their numbers are much higher than the other two species, which are both endangered.

To give yourself the best chance of spotting a leopard, stick to the far southern region of Kruger and drive roads that run through dense areas, preferably close to or next to a riverbed. You’ll also increase your chances dramatically if you drive very early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when they’re most active.

Also listen out for warning calls from their favourite prey species, such as impala, vervet monkeys and helmeted guinea fowl. There’s always a chance that a bit of time spent with a distressed prey animal could result in a leopard sighting.

 


On the H4-1 Sabie River Road leopard tend to be very relaxed around cars.

 

Although they occur right throughout the park and in all the different habitats, we suggest that you drive these roads:

 

1.    The H4-1 Sabie River Road
Leopard densities along the Sabie River between Skukuza and Lower Sabie are some of the highest in the world. Driving down this popular route very early in the morning, before the sun pops up above the horizon, probably gives you the single best chance of spotting a leopard in the park. Drive it very slowly and don’t be tempted to keep up with the other cars on the road. Search carefully in the branches of every large tree and in the shady spots below them once it gets warmer. Impala and vervet monkey numbers are very high here too, so remember that yours aren’t the only eyes on the lookout for spotted cats.

 


A mother leopard keeps watch as her tiny cub explores its surroundings.

 

2.    The S65 Waterhole Road
The S65 Waterhole Road that runs past the N’waswitshaka Waterhole south-west of Skukuza is a bit of a hit and miss road when it comes to general game viewing. Some days you see loads of game and other days hardly an impala. But one animal that seems to show itself regularly is the leopard. Keep your eyes peeled where you cross the N’waswitshaka riverbed and around the waterhole itself. Also scan the beautiful side branches of the many marula trees that line the side of the road, for leopards love to take catnaps on these.

 


Leopards do occur in mopane veld, but are less frequently seen there because it’s so dense.

3.    The S110 Matjulu Loop
It may only be 6-odd kilometres long, but the short, gravel Matjulu loop just north of Berg-en-Dal has a remarkably high leopard sighting hit rate. It’s tempting to drive it slowly up and down the whole morning, because you just know that at some stage a leopard is bound to walk into the road. This is one of the few hilly habitats in Kruger and it consists of terrain that leopards really love…

 


Leopards are usually active very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

 

4.    S1 Doispane Road
Apart from being one of the most scenic roads in the whole park, the S1 Doispane Road between Phabeni Gate and Skukuza is the perfect Big Five road. It runs through a great variety of habitats and therefore attracts a very large diversity of game, including many leopards. You could spot one anywhere along this road, but be extra vigilant where the road crosses small sandy riverbeds and rocky outcrops.

 


The S110 Matjulu Loop produces yet another amazing leopard sighting.

 

5.    Pretoriuskop loops
Pretoriuskop is known more for its scenic beauty and bird watching opportunities than it is for game viewing, but in the tall grass surrounding camp are more leopards than you may think. Because there are so many small loops all around camp, we’re not mentioning only one specifically. If you want to give yourself a chance of spotting a leopard, drive these loops very early in the morning and take special care to scan the rocks of all the koppies you pass.

 


A leopard rests in the branches of a knob-thorn tree on the S65 Waterhole Road.

 

You may have noticed that all these roads are south of Skukuza. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t leopards further north. In fact, the mopane thickets along the Letaba and Shingwedzi rivers are home to many leopards. But if you want to give yourself the best change of spotting one, this is the area to do it in.

 


A male leopard marks its territory along the Sabie River.

 

About the Author:

Villiers Steyn is a freelance travel- and wildlife photographer based in Hoedspruit, South Africa. He leads photographic safaris for Tusk Photo and has had his work published in leading travel magazines, including go!, DriveOut, Getaway, Country Life and Travel Africa.

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