Shoulder height 70cm. Weight 60–80kg.
The powerful leopard is the most solitary and secretive of Africa's big cats. It hunts at night, using stealth and power, often getting to within 5m of its intended prey before pouncing. If there are hyenas and lions around then leopards habitually move their kills up into trees to safeguard them. The leopard can be distinguished from the cheetah by its rosette-like spots, lack of black 'tearmarks' and more compact, low-slung, powerful build.
The leopard is the most common of Africa's large felines. Zambia's bush is perfect for leopard, which are common throughout the country, as they favour habitats with plenty of cover, like riverine woodlands. Despite this, a good sighting in the wild during the day is unusual. In fact there are many records of individuals living for years, undetected, in close proximity to humans. Sightings at night are a different story and, because Zambia's national parks allow night drives, it's probably Africa's best country for seeking leopard.
South Luangwa National Park was recently chosen by the BBC for the filming of their remarkable documentary, Night of the Leopard
. Leopard sightings often become the main goal of night drives there. Your chances of spotting them are equally good in the Lower Zambezi, whilst consistently first-class sightings are also reported from Lufupa Lodge in Kafue. Remarkably they usually seem unperturbed by the presence of a vehicle and spotlight, and will often continue whatever they are doing regardless of an audience. Watching a leopard stalk is captivating viewing.