Meet Africa’s Big Five: the Leopard (3/5)


Africa’s “Big Five” animals are so-named because they’re the most dangerous to bump into in the bush!

The African leopard (Panthera pardus) has a long and not particularly congenial history with humankind. Its ancestors made snacks of ours for millennia, which is one of the reasons that Africa is so rich with hominid fossils. (Leopards drag their kills into trees before eating them, including trees which grow in ravines; the bones fall into the ravines; the ravines are filled during an earthquake or mudslide, and the bones – pockmarked by leopard fangs – survive for today’s archaeologists.)

The slinky, solitary animals are nocturnal and extremely shy – thank your lucky stars if you manage to see one on a game drive, day or night. They also haven’t lost their taste for human flesh: when Your Correspondent was last in the Kruger Park, the fireside chats revolved around an unfortunate game ranger who had been leading a night drive the week before.

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The poor fellow stopped his vehicle on a long bridge over the Sabie River, walked to the end of the bridge to relieve himself – rifle in hand – and was never heard from again. His mauled body was found the next day; he had been eaten by a leopard. What a fate!

Leopards still exist in the wild in South Africa (that is, outside of nature reserves), especially in the Cape’s Cederberg region, where their numbers have apparently stabilized. They are awesome animals to behold – definitely the cream of the Big Five crop.