It’s been a bumper month for leopard sightings here at Abelana Game Reserve, with a number of these beautiful big cats spotted close to Abelana River Lodge in the north of the reserve and down in the south around Abelana Safari Camp.
Throughout lockdown a skeleton team of staff have been out driving the reserve every day, getting Abelana’s wildlife used to the coming and going of humans in vehicles. As a result of this habituation process the otherwise skittish and secretive leopards have relaxed enormously and are now being seen regularly, at all times of the day!
“We’ve seen at least five different leopards around Abelana River Lodge,” says guide Bill Drew, who along with fellow guide Sasha Maggs is part of the team that’s been traversing the reserve on a daily basis. “It’s good to see them making themselves known now, and a good indication that they are getting used to us being around and don’t regard us as a threat,” adds Bill.
Although leopards are primarily nocturnal hunters, they are also sometimes seen during the day as well. “We’ve had leopards cross the road in front of the vehicle in broad daylight,” says Bill. They are solitary cats with well-established territories, usually only coming together to mate. After a gestation period of between 90 and 105 days, females give birth to between two and four cubs which only start to join their mother on hunts when they are around three months old. They stay with their mother for up to two years.
The territory of male leopards is larger than that of females and often overlaps with female territories. While they will defend their territory against other males, aggressive encounters are rare.
Leopards feed primarily on smaller antelope species such as impala, bushbuck and duiker but will also prey on the young of larger animals such as kudu, wildebeest and waterbuck. They are also known to hunt warthogs. They typically stalk their prey but are also known to ambush prey from above, dropping down on them from high branches in riparian trees.
Africa’s second-largest big cat, after the lion, male leopards are larger and heavier than females, standing at up to 70cm at the shoulder and weighing in between 40 and 90kg. Females can weight up to 60kg when fully grown. Due to their large skulls and powerful jaw muscles, leopards are strong enough to drag carcasses more than twice their own bodyweight up into trees to avoid losing their kills to other predators and scavengers.