My favorite animal is without a doubt the Leopard. There is something so unbelievably beautiful about a Leopard with its majestic rosette pattern fur coat to its graceful yet stealthy and elusive nature. It is always such a treat to be able to see Leopard in the wild and one of the best places to do so is the Kruger National Park.
As you will know from my earlier blog post review about the book, 101 Kruger Tales, my husband and I are frequent visitors to the Kruger. We own a weeks’ timeshare in a place called Mjejane Private Game Reserve part of the Greater Kruger, which allows us to spend time in our happy place every winter. Our timeshare week also happens to coincide with the Skukuza Half Marathon, which is a run that takes place in the Kruger every year (Look out for more info on this fantastic run in a new blog post coming soon).
Whilst in Kruger I am very happy to spend the whole day driving around the Park in search of wildlife and bird sightings. However, I will not lie the Leopard is always the one animal I am on the lookout for the most. Many friends have asked my husband and I how do we so often spot Leopards when we visit Game Reserves? We both have been very fortunate to be able to view and encounter many leopards in the wild and in fact our recent trip to Kruger was one of the best ever where we managed to spot 9 leopards over the 9 days we were in the Park. Some people say we are very lucky people to have seen so many Leopards but in fact I would beg to differ. Although there is definitely an element of luck required (being in the right place at the right time), I also believe there are some helpful pointers I can share on where/what/how to look out for if you are seeking the elusive Leopard.
Keep a lookout for vertical branches in tall trees – Leopards often spend the day lying in tall trees. One of the tips I was given whilst on a safari in the Central Serengeti is to look out for vertical hanging branches which look out of place. A vertical hanging branch could very likely be the tail of a leopard!
Choice of areas to drive in Kruger – According to Sanparks, there is an estimate of 1000 Leopards in the Kruger National Park. There are however some key areas to keep a sharp eye out for the elusive Leopard which include;
- The South of the Park is very popular for sightings of Leopards especially in the trees along the river road between Skukuza and Lower Sabie area.
- Leopard’s are often seen in rocky outcrops lying in the sun mid-morning. This is why the Pretoriouskop and Berg-en-Dal area is popular for sightings of these beautiful cats
- The North of the Park such as around Punda Maria and Shingwedzi are home to many leopards especially in areas along drainage lines, rocky outcrops and riverbeds.
Utilize word-of-mouth and technology – As is the case when you go on a Game Drive with a Ranger, you will realize that looking for animals in the bushveld often requires a team of people. The Ranger will be in contact via radio with other rangers to confirm if any sightings have been seen in an area and/or they will work together to try locate animals based on tracks seen along the road. When you are self-driving in Kruger you do not have to work in isolation to try and spot animals (unless that is what you prefer). Instead you can use various tools to help you increase your odds of sighting certain animals.
- Firstly, don’t be shy to chat to strangers in the Park to find out what sightings they have seen. If you have a great sighting do the favour of slowing down oncoming cars to inform them of the sighting and hopefully they will also give you tips on sightings they have seen on their drive.
- Download an app called Latest Sightings to your Smartphone – The app allows you to upload any sightings you have in the Kruger and view other people’s sightings. The only disadvantage to the app is that it relies on cellphone signal which is pretty limited in most of the Kruger Park other than by the major camps. However, you can still check the app when you get to the camps to see if there is any sightings in the areas you are about to drive.
- Check the Sightings Boards in the major Kruger Camps – at most of the major camps and picnic spots in the Kruger there will be a Sightings Board where people can pin their sightings of the Big Five (except for Rhino’s due to the threat of poaching).
Time of Day – Although the Big Cats in Kruger are often seen at dawn or dusk; I have found that in fact the best time of day to spot Leopards is in the late morning around 11am. I do not know if there is any behavioral reason for them moving around at this time of day but this seems to be a definite “sweetspot” time to sight a Leopard on the move in my experience.
A bit of luck – Lastly, there is still definitely an element of luck required to spot the elusive Leopard in Kruger making it that much more special when the stars align and you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
I hope you find some of my tips helpful for your next trip to Kruger.
Wishing you many memorable Leopard sightings!