Recently while looking through leopard photos I was thinking about the first leopards I saw, overall and in certain places, and how you meet individuals. When you see lions you see prides, many lions all at once but with leopards and their solitary nature it’s usually only one leopard you see (occasionally mother and cub or mating leopards) but never more than one other than those times. In my mind it makes them stand out more because you remember each sighting more than you might remember the individuals in a lion pride or pack of wild dogs.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you my leopard sightings, I remember ‘most’ of them, what happened, where it was or how I felt.
This was my first leopard sighting EVER! I was on an overland tour travelling from Kenya – South Africa, my first big trip, my first trip on my own and one of the best experiences of my life. It started something, something magical and it started my journey to wildlife photography and travel.
This was in the Serengeti National Park, an optional extra on the trip – of course I did all the wildlife excursions, we had been to the Ngorongoro Crater the day before and then spent this day, the 17th February 2010, on the Serengeti plains. We had passed this tree previously and it had a kill in it, but no leopards, when we returned there was a young leopard (still with mum) up in the tree feeding on the carcass and mum was asleep in the notch of the tree. So I saw 2 leopards in my first sighting. You can see my camera equipment and skills weren’t at the level I was now so please excuse the ‘bad’ photos.
Soon after that sighting, which you can only imagine I was ecstatic about, we found another leopard sleeping in a tree (I believe it was really far away which is why I don’t have a photograph) and then further along another Leopard who leapt down from a very high tree, allowing me to get a few shots (still apologies for the bad photo). What a start to my leopard journey.
The next sighting of a leopard came in Namibia, Etosha National Park. We were in a huge overland bus so not many windows and lots of people, we drive past a leopard sat at the side of the road – everyone got so overexcited and noisy so it slunk away. I had my camera on all the wrong settings- which happens – but this is the shot I got. I say you can see it’s a leopard so it counts!
My next Leopard came in India in 2012, March 22nd in Kanha National Park. Hadn’t seen any Tigers which is why we were there but we did come across this leopard in the very, very distance (hence the shot) sat on a large rock basking in the sun – this is still my only Leopard in India (heard one very close on my last trip but no sightings) so this counts as my only Asian Leopard.
I didn’t go back to Africa until October 2013, it was recommended to me to visit South Africa and Kruger National Park and I found a company that did ‘Budget safaris’! It actually worked out so, so well, it took me a day or two to see my first leopard though. My first proper Kruger Leopard, just sat in the grass beside the road, it’s amazing how unconcerned they are about vehicles. I was just blown away by the fact I was watching a Leopard sitting in the grass at relatively close quarters.
I was also given a distant leopard on some rocks in the riverbank, which even though it was distant, was more how I thought it would be, seeing a leopard in its environment, both super great sightings but left me wanting more.
I got up early one morning for a bush walk with the SanParks guides, we had to drive to the location where we would be walking from. As anyone who knows me, knows, I’m not a great morning person so I was sat on the truck, mostly still asleep, when my eye was caught by something, A LEOPARD, they had said not to shout if you saw something and for a split second I wasn’t sure I had, when I was sure and since I was at the back it took us a minute or two to stop and reverse to the leopard I’d seen, we did and it was still there, a young, nervous looking female but MY leopard, I saw it, I spotted it and I stopped us. I was also the only one to get any photos but the joy I felt having been the one to see it was overwhelming. Still one of my proudest moments.
The second half of this trip was spent at a lodge just outside the Sabi Sands Game Reserve so we could go to Sabi Sands and Kruger. They had previously found a female leopard with a kill and she had placed it in a tree so for my first drive in Sabi Sands they took us straight to a leopard on a kill. We arrived and she wasn’t there, slowly she emerged from the bush and climbed the tree, eating it almost above our heads. The cracking sounds of her breaking the bones was really intense, like nothing else I’d ever heard. She also had an injury to one of her eyes, the one not visible in this photo.
A few days later, on the afternoon drive – which obviously turns into a night drive (in private reserves) we found this male leopard in the dark and I managed to get a decent-ish shot in the dark. Better than nothing.
My last leopard for this trip was this one, back in the main Kruger National Park, another one I spotted and called for the ‘stop, stop, stop’. It was sat in the grass and as we watched it, it got up, stretched, scent marked and walked off into the bush. Another pretty cool sighting.
My next time in South Africa and Kruger was in November 2014, a month later than 2013 so things were a bit different, the summer migrants were in full flow and it was bit hotter as it headed more into the summer months.
My first evening drive, was with the SANParks guides, which means you can stay out after dark, so we found this leopard as the sun went down, hence the spotlight hue you can see and the high ISO which means it’s super grainy.
The next morning I found another leopard, I yell-whispered the ‘stop, stop, stop’ and found this beautiful female cat sat just beside the road, we were the first ones along this road on this morning and she just sat there and stared up at us… I took my best selfie to date at this very moment.
She then walked alongside the vehicle, crossed the road behind us and then off into the bush. A while later we came back along this road and she was sat away from the road in the bush, there were more people there so we had had the best of the view.
A very distant leopard asleep in the perfect leopard tree but the wrong way round, why do they never sit how you think they should sit?
One more in Kruger National Park was this very small glimpse and this one photograph. A fleeting glimpse.
Staying again at Tydon Bush camp in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, we found this huge male leopard on the far bank of a river sitting in a patch of sunlight. We couldn’t get any closer since it was on a neighbouring property.
Our next sighting was one of my most memorable sightings, we heard word on the radio that there was a leopard sighted so off we went, a beautiful male leopard sat on a termite mound. He snoozed there and as he did, everyone else left, luckily the people in the jeep with me where happy to sit there with him as I certainly was.
We sat with him for an hour or so, he spotted some impala and kudu walking past, climbed off the termite mound – we really thought he might hunt, but they spotted him first so he stayed where he was. We changed positions a few times and he barely twitched an ear, after a while he got up and walked off into the bush. We went with him for a while until he headed into some bush that was impenetrable to vehicles so we circled round to try and stick with him. We found him again and just travelled along with him as he patrolled his territory before heading off on our own travels. Later that evening we picked him up in the spotlight as dusk fell. What a cat! This was my first encounter with Maxebeni, my favourite leopard of all.
My next Africa trip was to the Maasai Mara in 2015, I had only spent a night or two there on my overland trip so I was so excited to spend some time there and with my camera. The first leopards we saw were on the second morning and it was a mother and her 6+ month old cub. Amazing sighting, the female wasn’t that bothered with our presence but the cub was super nervous but it was really lovely to see the two of them interacting.
A few days later we were alongside the river, waiting for Zebras and Wildebeest to come and cross, and while we were waiting we got something better, a leopard, a large male leopard with a wound on the back of one of his legs but an impressive specimen. I believe he was called the Double Cross male (I may be incorrect and am happy to be corrected). He walked along the river bank, scent marking as he went, before the approaching water made him leap higher on the bank where he sat down for a snooze.
One morning we found this female leopard walking across the plains, we stayed with her for a while and she actually led us to a large male leopard in a tree with an Eland calf kill, he sat in the tree for a while to rest before starting to feed on the carcass. After a while he climbed down for a toilet break before settling down for a sleep in the grass.
We decided to check in on the female we had previously seen, leaving him to his sleep.
My 2016 Africa trip was to Botswana and was my most successful photographic trip. Our first stop was Moremi where we found a pack of Wild Dogs, Kwai where we had amazing leopard sightings and Savuti where we found a large lion pride – the predator trifecta. The first leopard came on our transfer from Moremi to Kwai, a report of a leopard took us off our direct path and it was totally worth it, this lovely young male leopard who popped out the grass, walked around for a bit then sat on a termite mound. We had to keep moving but worth the small detour.
Arriving in Kwai, a sighting of a leopard was passed to us and off we went, she came out of the mopane trees and posed beautifully before moving off. Her name is Muchabe (sp?) and it was known she had 2 almost adult cubs, a male and a female.
Later that evening as the light faded we found the female cub, she was off on her own so definitely gaining her independence from her mother. Only got this quick glimpse in terrible light so it’s super grainy once more.
The next day we found the adult female and her almost adult male cub, it was lovely to see them walk alongside each other, their tails intertwining as they went about their day, playing in the grass and jumping and walking along fallen trees. So lovely.
The next and last morning in Kwai we went straight to a tree where we had heard they had a kill, there was indeed a kill in the tree, the adult female was asleep in the tree and the young male cub was asleep at the base of the tree. He woke up, stretched and bothered his mother so much she got up too, they played on the ground for a bit, leaping off trees and tackling each other other. They wrestled on the tree itself before the male went up to get his share of the kill. It was one of the most exciting and photographically amazing sightings I’ve had.
A day or so later in the Savuti area we found a female leopard known as the ‘Twin Ridges’ female, who wasn’t fully weight bearing on her back right leg after an injury.
We found her the next day too as the light went but it created these amazing blue tones.
Botswana really delivered.
Later that year, 2016, I headed back south for a 3 week trip with my mum to show her the amazingness that is safari, luckily she loved it and we’ve been multiple times since. This trip however we travelled around every few days.
The first leopard was this hard to get shot of a female leopard curled up asleep in some thick bush in Thornybush Game Reserve.
That same night on the way back to camp we caught some eye shine in the spotlight, a male leopard, apparently the brother of the female we glimpsed earlier in the evening, he stopped and watched us for a few minutes, then ran away, pretty shy.
The next leopard came at the third camp we stayed at in Timbavati Game Reserve. We saw her over 3 days, she had a fresh impala kill on the ground the first time we saw her. Watched her haul it up into a tree one evening. Saw her second kill, a scrub hare in another tree, while she sat on the ground and had a drink from a pool of water before sitting up in some rocks. It was so lovely to see her over the course of a few days as she stayed in that small area because of her kill, it’s usually such small glimpses etc so it was really nice to spend some time with her.
We then travelled into Kruger National Park on our own steam, my first time self driving there which was slightly nerve-wracking, learning the distances etc. We drove from Satara to Skukuza seeing amazing things but that evening we went out and just off on the left as we drove along we spotted a spotty cat, a male leopard sat on a termite mound. It was almost lost in some of the other crazy highlights of that day but it wouldn’t have been so amazing without this lovely cat sighting.
Next we headed out of Kruger itself and into the connected neighbouring Sabi Sands Game Reserve where I was thrilled to introduce my mum to Maxebeni, that very favourite leopard of mine. It was only a brief glimpse where he was walking along the opposite river bank to us but he turned to look at us so I think he knew I wanted to see him!
The only other leopard sighting of this trip was after flying from SA to Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls) and into Chobe National Park in Botswana. We had been out on the boats on the river, and on drives into Chobe itself and seen so many elephants, I never imagined there were that many! The very last morning, I decided to go on one more drive, no one else did so I had a whole jeep to myself (very bizarre) and that was the only time we found a leopard in Chobe, and not just one but a pair, mating leopards. It was also the only time I’ve looked for leopard specifically and found them!
The next trip to Africa was 2017 to the Maasai Mara in Kenya once more.
Our first view of a Leopard was the legend that is Bahati.
And her two cubs, one we only saw glimpses of in the bushes but the second one climbed the tree, I was so happy I cried which concerned the guide until I reassured them they were happy tears. I’ve wanted to see leopard cubs for so many years and while I still want to see the tiny ones, these filled that brief and I was left very emotional.
A few days later we found a leopard in a tree, this young male still with his mother, was up in the branches feeding on the carcass they had stashed there. He was up and down the tree, mum was on the ground looking up, she went up to feed and dropped the carcass from the tree, it got caught on a low branch so the cub/young adult was trying to hit it like a piñata.
Later on on 2017, I took two of my friends to Kruger for a self drive trip, which is great because you can spend as much time as you want with the animals you want.
This was our first leopard sighting.
Hard to see… try the left most tree… Can you believe someone even spotted that one? It wasn't me by the way, we stopped by some people who said there was a leopard but it took us about 10 minutes to find it!
We then didn’t see a leopard for 5 more days, saw so many other animals though. We got a tip about a leopard in a tree, we arrived at the spot but the only view we could get was this one, it counts but not the best photographically. It jumped down soon after we arrived and disappeared into the bush.
The same day, we were headed out for an afternoon drive, as we were at the gate to leave camp, there was a sighting report of a leopard – in camp! From the restaurant walkway along the river there was a male leopard in the riverbank sitting in the shade, so we stayed and watched him for most of the afternoon. According to my friend it was two leopards but the rest of us were aware he just moved along the riverbank!
The next day on one of the main tar roads we came across a battle-scarred male with half a tail, he walked alongside the road before stopping and settling down for a sleep. It was a really great sighting with some excellent backlight.
The next day after a Black Rhino sighting, a car had stopped and the occupants were looking at something, we could not see what they were looking at… this beautiful female leopard sat at the side of the road. She quickly got up and slunk away, clearly not the most habituated leopard but so pretty.
One morning my friends went on a bush walk, so I went out on my own, someone told me about a leopard so I went along thinking I wouldn’t find it. I did, had an amazing view and with only one other car, magical.
After my friends came back, we popped along to see it again and it was the worst traffic jam I’ve ever seen in Kruger. Insanity. Got a quick view of him in the tree after feeding on a kill, he wasn’t rolling off the tree any time soon, his belly was so full.
A few months later at the beginning of 2018, I took my aunt and uncle on their first safari along with my mum, not only was it amazing to show them my ‘world’ but really lovely to spend time with them since they live in Canada. One of our first days amounted in this sighting of a leopard.
Once more we had stopped because someone else had, they let us know there was a leopard in the riverbank below us, we were on a bridge. Could we see this damn leopard – no. We sat and waited, and waited and eventually it moved, stalking a Bushbuck, and finally we could see it. Only a glimpse but a good start.
The next day we had a better view of one as we came across this lovely cat sitting in a tree. The chaos of Kruger was present too so we didn’t stay too long but a great view.
Then I took them to Sabi Sands Game Reserve and to Tydon camp I’d stayed at many times before, we found this female walking on a neighbouring property, we couldn’t get any closer but a nice fleeting glimpse on the first drive
The next day, who did we find walking towards us, but my dear old Maxebeni, it’s like he knows I’ve bought people to see him and there he appears. He was doing his usual territorial pacing, scent marking and making his presence felt. He walked slowly towards us, straight past us and then off on his patrol. I was so happy to see him, and to show more of my family this impressive cat.
Another leopard we found in Sabi Sands was this beautiful female, she was originally walking along a drainage ditch but she settled down on top of a termite mound, which put her pretty much eye level with us in the vehicle which was disconcerting and amazing, she slept a bit, then turned and looked at us. Magical.
That same day we headed back into Kruger itself and up the road towards Satara camp. Along this road there was a tree and in the distance we could see a carcass hanging in the tree, after a minute of looking, we realised there was also a cat in the tree, fast asleep.
My aunt and uncle left a day later leaving mum and I to wander around in Kruger, a few days later, we had one of those crazy drives where there is so much to see you don’t know where to look. Rhinos, elephants, lions and this leopard in a tree, I’m pretty sure it was a male, it stood up and turned around, it also stood in the tree and called out, first time I’ve seen a leopard call, it was very cool.
Further along the same road, another tree with a leopard, wait, two leopards, they didn’t move and we had to but by the sizes, I would say it was a mother and cub. One of those days.
Mum and I headed back to Kruger later in 2018, November. We stayed in Sabi Sands first for a few nights, where we didn’t see my beloved Maxebeni this time but we did see his son, White Dam, Max was starting to get a bit older and losing territory so he wasn’t around that area anymore but it’s really good to see his genes living on in his offspring. White Dam was in this area with palm trees so I used them to frame his face. I love this photograph.
A glimpse of a female leopard on a neighbouring property.
And a day later another view of White Dam in the riverbed.
We were a little short of leopards on this trip, a lot of ‘almosts’, ‘you just missed it’ and ‘maybe it’ll be back’. So frustrating but also fairly typical of leopards and cats, we/I have been super lucky to this point. However we did find this leopard in a tree with a kill, it was possibly the leafiest tree in the park but I managed to get some shots through the branches.
On the last day we were there, we got a this glimpse of a male leopard sleeping in a tree, and just a glimpse.
2019 brought another trip to Kruger and a few more leopards. Again we started with a few nights in Sabi Sands where we saw only one leopard, a male called Nweti, the new big male in town, Max is long gone now, pushed out of this territory and Nweti is trying to take over as the dominant male. We found this guy after smelling popcorn, which is the scent associated in your mind with the scent marking male leopards do. Very strange.
After that we headed into Kruger for 2 weeks. This old, scarred male was just walking alongside the road for some time, I would drive ahead of him and wait for him to catch up so I could get face on shots and I kept my window up, the most dangerous leopards to humans are the hungry old leopards, the ones who want easy prey. But what a face and what a life he must have lived.
Next was this male leopard on a distant riverbank at a lookout spot near Shingwedzi, he just lay there watching the cars on the opposite bank before heading off into the bush on the far side.
Along a high river bank still near Shingwedzi, we saw this female sitting in the river bank, just sat. Eventually she disappeared out of view towards the bank we were on but we couldn’t find her as we drove along, what we did find where more cars who said there were cubs around too.
We didn’t see cubs but we did see this male skulking along the riverbank within a few hundred metres of where we saw the original cat, this male has a cloudy eye, it’s not impossible for them to continue after having an eye injury.
We stayed in the area and saw the female leopard stalk across the river bed and up the other side in obvious hunt mode. We couldn’t see what she was focused on but she was serious, then a cub appeared out of seeming nowhere, mum took off after something and the cub followed after her, we don’t know if she caught anything or whether the cub ruined the hunt. Excellent sighting though.
A day or two later, very close to the most northern camp Punda Maria, we came across this female leopard dragging her recently killed Impala carcass, the effort it took was palpable to see. She dragged it into cover and we could only get glimpses through the bushes but she seemed to be enjoying her meal.
Then we didn’t see many leopards, our last morning we went out along the river route and although I usually try not to hope for anything, I was definitely on the lookout for leopards, I really wanted to see one more. We saw someone stopped near a Giraffe and thought that was why they stopped, turns out – not. But sat on a low termite mound was this beautiful female, there was one view through the bushes and we were in it, only one other car and perfect positioning, it was magical. After a while she walked off and we managed to stay with her for a bit but lost her in the dense South African bush, the perfect end to our trip and one of my favourite photographs.
Since then I haven’t been back to Africa so I’m left with this as my last leopard – not so bad – but I miss the thrill, the breath-taking feelings that make my heart happy and I hope to be back in Africa as soon as it’s safe to do so.
I Miss It.
In re-reading this before posting it, it's a strong showing of how my photography has improved and changed over the years. I'm quite proud of where I started and where I am now.