The 2nd of January 2020, almost at the end of our Satara Summer, delivered one of the most memorable sightings of the month we spent in the Kruger National Park. About half-way between Satara and Olifants we came across this pair of Leopards, and did they put on a show to remember! Trust us; seeing Leopards like THIS happens only very rarely…
I have been visiting South Africa’s wild places for all my 40+ years, and yet there’s still many of their treasures I am yet to see. Following our September visit to the Kruger National Park I can now finally tick my first ever encounter with a leopard cub! We found the little one lazily watching the passing vehicles from a rocky outcrop along the main road between Tshokwane and Skukuza.
Believe it or not, but in the middle of this picture there’s a leopard hidden in the grass. Don’t worry; If I didn’t see her walk in there I wouldn’t have known it either.
Luckily she grew tired of her hiding spot, got up and walked into even denser vegetation, allowing just one quickly fired shot as proof…
This leopard was lying not two meters from our car and was totally invisible – what wonderful camouflage these cats have!
The beautiful Leopard is at the top of the wishlists of many visitors to South Africa’s wild places, and certainly deserves its position among Africa’s “Big Five“. One of the most adaptable of the large carnivores, their build and colouration is supremely attuned to the environment in which they live. Depending on the harshness of the environment and the size of prey available, the weight of adult males can vary between 20 and 90 kilograms (females weigh slightly less), with a shoulder height ranging between 55 and 80cm.
Leopards have adapted to every habitat on the African continent, from the driest deserts to the tropical rainforest and high mountain ranges. They are just as catholic in their diet, which ranges from insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and rodents to large mammals and even other predators (including jackals, spotted hyenas and cheetahs) or carrion, though they normally prefer commonly occurring medium-sized antelope and wild pigs. Though they are not dependent on the availability of surface water they will drink regularly if it is available. Their penchant for storing the carcasses of their prey up high in the branches of trees, where it is inaccessible to competing predators, allows them to feed from the same carcass for up to 6 days.
Solitary by nature, Leopards only associate with others of their kind when mating or when cubs accompany their mother. Adults of both sexes hold territories that may cover enormous areas, depending on the availability of prey, are advertised by their rasping call and marked with urine, scat and scrape marks against prominent trees, and defended viciously, sometimes to the death, against interlopers of the same sex. Male territories are larger and can overlap with the areas of up to six females. Leopards are nocturnal, with most activity occurring from dusk to dawn, resting up in the deep shade of tree canopies, thickets and caves. They love basking in the early morning or late afternoon sun. Leopards can reach a speed of up to 60km/h, but can only maintain it for short bursts and rely on their camouflage and expert stalking skills to get within range of their prey.
Female Leopards usually give birth to 2 or 3 cubs (range from 1 to 6) after a short 3 month gestation at any time of the year. Newborn cubs are kept hidden in caves, among boulders, in thickets and even burrows while the mother is out hunting, until they start accompanying her at the age of about two to four months. Cubs become independent anywhere between 12 and 24 months of age, though only about half of the cubs born reach that age. Lions and spotted hyenas will attack and kill adult Leopards, while even jackals pose a threat to unguarded cubs.
Leopards have a wide distribution in Africa and Asia, but their populations have been reduced and become confined to increasingly isolated pockets over most of that range, leading the IUCN to classify it as “vulnerable” due to the persistent threats of illegal hunting and loss of habitat and prey. In South Africa, Leopards can be found in the mountains of the Western and Eastern Cape, along the Namibian and Botswana borders with the Northern Cape, in the Drakensberg range and northern Kwazulu-Natal, and widely in the North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, but their secretive nature makes it virtually impossible to determine their population size, with the EWT estimating the number of leopards occurring in South Africa between 2,800 and 11,600. In our experience, the Kruger National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Mapungubwe National Park, Pilanesberg National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (especially the Eastern Shores section) and Ithala Game Reserve presents the best chance of finding these elusive cats on a self-drive safari in South Africa.
Today, we flash back all the way to July 2012 to remember this spectacular leopard encounter near Skukuza in the Kruger National Park
This is our second entry into the 5 Day Black-and-White Photo Challenge. There are only two rules for this challenge:
1. On 5 consecutive days, create a post using either a past or recent photo in B&W.
2. Each day invite another blog friend to join in the fun.
“i AM Safari” is the brilliant blog of another of de Wets Wild’s long standing friends, Maurice Hovens. Like us, Maurice and his family loves exploring earth’s wild places. Maurice, we hope you’ll accept our invitation to join the 5 Day Black-and-White Photo Challenge? If not, at least please see this as a token of how much we appreciate your friendship and support!
Not only is the first and last hours of daylight – the “Golden Hours” – the best for photography, but it is also the best time to be out searching for the big cats in South Africa’s wild places, like this leopard we encountered near Cape Vidal, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
A leopard stalking warthogs near Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The leopard’s attack proved fruitless and in the end the hogs had their revenge, chasing the leopard back into the dune forest.