Leopards are usually the most coveted of the Big Five sightings, in part because their nocturnal stealthy habits make them among the most difficult big cats to see. But what a find, if you do see it. They are the quintessence of feline beauty – stealthy, strong and secretive.

Did you know?

Leopards make a 'wa-wah' sound instead of purring, and make abrupt purr sounds to call their cubs.

Of all the big cats, the sighting that will thrill you to your bones is that of a leopard.

There is no member of the Big Five that is more secretive, more implacably wild, powerful and beautiful.

Unlike lions that loll about in prides, leopards are solitary and nocturnal – another reason they are so seldom sighted. They are mostly silent, although you may sometimes hear them ‘roaring’ – a territorial call that sounds exactly like someone sawing wood.

They have a talent for stealth, silently stalking their prey, seldom pouncing until they are within 20 metres or closer.

Their strength-to-weight ratio is staggering. They can kill animals three times their weight, and drag an adult antelope up a tree to safeguard and eat later.

Of all the big cats, they climb trees the most, and can sometimes be seen during the day, dozing draped across a branch.

Their camouflage, however, makes spotting them a real challenge. Leopards are mostly a buff or golden colour, covered in black rosettes, with two stripes below the throat. They have small round ears and a white tip on their tails that they hold high to guide their following cubs.

Although they are infuriatingly elusive, it’s not because they are fussy about where they live and what they eat. They’re found in most places around South Africa, from mountains to savannahs to semi-deserts and even settled areas.

Diet-wise, there’s very little they’ll turn their spotted noses up at. They prefer antelope, but if nothing else, they’ll take beetles, rabbits, birds – almost anything with protein. They have been known to sneak up on – and attack – guard dogs.

But despite their wide habitat tolerance and unfussy feeding preferences, there are only a few places where you stand a fair chance at seeing them.

The Sabi Sand reserve, which is right next to the Kruger National Park, is home to many private and exclusive game lodges. Among them, Londolozi and MalaMala notably boast excellent sighting statistics for leopards – in part because these creatures have become so habituated to humans and vehicles. Also, at a private lodge, the vehicles are permitted to drive off-road, which you can't do in the Kruger.

Travel tips & Planning info