Leopards in Botswana
Author Dominic Chadbon
With its coiled, muscular grace and beguilingly beautiful coat, the leopard is the most sought-after sighting on safari. Yet, despite its widespread distribution, Panthera pardus is also the most elusive of big cats. Solitary, stealthy and shy, they are best seen in Africa’s most undisturbed and wildest reserves – and that means Botswana.
Leopards in Botswana live from the red-sand Kalahari to the banks of the Chobe River and are often seen in broad daylight, seemingly unconcerned by our presence. Once, while guiding in Botswana, I watched a leopard stroll over to my land rover and scratch its head on the vehicle’s bull-bar.
Although a leopard sighting usually comes down to good old-fashioned luck, you can stack the odds in your favour by going to destinations that have a reputation for them. A combination of ideal habitat, well-placed accommodation and expert guides with local knowledge usually does the trick – here’s where to go for leopards in Botswana.
Khwai River region – Moremi Game Reserve
Protecting the Okavango Delta, Moremi is an outstanding safari destination and its Khwai River region is among its most rewarding. An area of permanent water, nutritious floodplains and sheltering woodlands, it rumbles with year-round wildlife, ensuring the resident leopards are well fed. Look for them in the branches of the huge trees that line the river, or prowling for prey in the margins of the forest.
Where to stay:
Khwai accommodation enjoys a best-of-both-worlds location: besides game drives in the Moremi, their private concession settings allow them to offer spot-lit night drives too, and their guides can go off road to ensure every chance of a great leopard sighting.
Camp Moremi and Camp Xakanaxa offer classic tented accommodation in small, intimate camps while Khwai River Lodge offers the top-end luxury option. Another excellent destination for leopards in Botswana is legendary Mombo Camp, set deep in the Okavango Delta. You won’t do night drives here in the Moremi Reserve but the game viewing is epic and the leopards so numerous that one of them, Legadima, featured in a National Geographical documentary.
Savuti – Chobe National Park
The wild epicentre of the Chobe National Park, Savuti’s sprawling grasslands and isolated granite hills lie far from the famous Chobe River but the rugged Savuti landscape suits leopards, and their rasping call competes with those of lions and hyenas in a predator-heavy environment. Huge impala herds make up the bulk of the leopards’ prey here, and at no time more than in early summer when hundreds of wobbly-legged baby impala are born.
Where to stay:
Put yourself in prime position and stay on the Savuti Channel: the river is the area’s lifeline and its tangled riverbanks are ideal leopard habitat. Affordable, five-tent Camp Savuti is perfect for self-drive overlanders who want a bit of luxury while Savute Safari Lodge and magisterial Savute Elephant Lodge offer a more upmarket experience.
Linyanti wetlands – Northern Botswana
If you’re looking for an off-radar destination to see leopards in Botswana then heads for the Linyanti. A remote, largely unvisited area of permanent rivers and ephemeral wetlands, Linyanti’s forests are home to great numbers of leopards, best seen during the long May to October dry season when thirsty animals are concentrated around water. It’s also an area famous for its wild dog population and the bird watching is sensational.
Where to stay:
Savuti Camp and Kings Pool Camp both lie in the private Linyanti Reserve, ensuring every chance of seeing leopards with a mix of day and night drives. When water levels are high enough, you’ll also enjoy boating and river safaris too.