Leopards have been getting a lot of bad press lately, but don’t let that put you off your travels to Namibia. Negative instances involving these big cats are extremely rare and it’s usually much harder to find them than it is to avoid them and here’s why.
The best place to get to know more about the elusive leopard is at the AfriCat Foundation near Okonjima. It’s well worth taking the 2 ½ hour drive from your Windhoek accommodation to learn more about conserving the big cats of Namibia. You can also see leopards, lions and cheetah in Etosha National Park.
Wherever you plan to go in search of leopards in Namibia, knowing a little more about them makes the experience more meaningful.
Most leopard behaviour revolves around their solitary tendencies. The only time you’ll ever see more than one adult leopard together is during the brief courtship and mating period which lasts only a few days.
The rest of the time they choose to go it alone, although they are usually aware of the whereabouts of their kin and may exist in ranges that overlap to some degree.
Stealth and Surprise
Since they are usually alone, they do not have the hunting power of the lion pride and choose to operate under cover of darkness. For the same reason, the leopard very seldom takes prey that is larger than an impala and they are known to scavenge anything they can get their fangs on. Leopards prefer antelope and primates come feeding time but have been known to eat reptiles, birds and even insects if they cannot find anything else.
They are stealthy predators, silently stalking their prey until it is within pouncing distance. Once they have managed a kill they quickly drag it up into the branches of a sturdy nearby tree. Without the protection afforded by companions, leopards cannot defend their meal against other species such as lions and hyenas.
Given the chance a leopard will steal prey from cheetahs, who are smaller, more timid animals and rarely defend a kill.
On the Move
Most male leopards have a range of between 30 and 78 km while the females dwell in areas of about 15km. They constantly move about within their defined territories, rarely staying in one place for more than a few days.
Females with cubs move around a little less and are in constant danger from marauding males who will kill any youngsters that they come across. For this reason, the female usually keeps her cubs hidden in the den for up to 3 months. Once they emerge, they are fully capable of climbing and start learning to hunt alongside their mother. They stay with her for up to 2 years.
Conflict with Man
It’s not difficult to imagine how encroaching human settlements can disrupt the natural behaviour of the leopards. Their very existence is fraught with danger from other leopards, poachers and starvation. The introduction of goats, sheep and other suitable prey species only adds to the problem, with local farmers shooting leopards on site due to fear of predation.
Some leopards do adapt to skulking on the outskirts of humanity, provided they can avoid detection, but it’s not an ideal situation and almost always leads to eventual conflict.
Conserving the Leopard
Despite being the coolest cats around when it comes to stealth, power and certainly looks, leopards do not have it easy. If you are lucky enough to see one during your Namibian safari, spare a thought for the difficulties they face as the world closes in around them.
Do your bit to ensure the survival of one of Africa’s most elusive creatures by supporting initiatives such as Africat who are working towards a harmonious relationship between cat and man.
If you want to experience the amazing world of Namibian wildlife, start planning your safari today. It all starts with booking your accommodation in Windhoek.