The leopard (Panthera pardus) is an agile and powerful big wild cat closely related to the tiger, jaguar and lion. It lives in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, China, and India. It’s found in virtually all habitats which offer adequate cover in most Ugandan national parks and forest reserves.
Most leopards in Uganda are light-coloured with distinctive dark spots called rosettes. Leopards that appear with almost a solid dark colour and spots hard to distinguish are commonly called black panthers.
Leopards, unlike lions, are solitary creatures, spending most of their adult lives alone. Males almost entirely live solo, and females only break their solitude when raising cubs.
However, like lions, leopards roar; a male leopard will defend its territory by roaring and scent marking, while a female will roar to attract mates and call their cubs. Its roar is a rough rasp, like a simple handsaw cutting wood.
The leopard uses strong muscles to haul its kill into tree branches, where it finds comfort away from scavengers such as hyenas. It can also hunt from trees, where its spotted coat allows it to blend with the leaves until it springs on prey with a deadly pounce.
This nocturnal predator can also stalk antelope, deer, and pigs by stealthy movements in the tall grass. The leopard has been sighted near human settlements, often attacking dogs, livestock, and occasionally, people.
The leopard (Panthera pardus), the most common of Africa’s large wild cats, often lives close to human settlements, but it is rarely visible because of its secretive, solitary nature. It is an exceptionally adaptable predator because of its ecological and ethological attributes.
It occupies every African biome south of the Sahara in controlled conditions except the dry areas. In particular habitats, notably woodland and thornbush areas. It is observed to reach remarkably high densities, even as high as one leopard per two square kilometres. In lowland and montane forests, its densities may sometimes be higher.
Its capacity for adapting to changes in prey species, hunting conditions, carnivore competition, vegetation patterns and human activities enables it to survive in developing Africa more successfully than almost any other large wild animal. It can even persist in more or less advanced agricultural areas, though often in significantly reduced numbers.
More than other carnivore species in Uganda, the leopard has regular sightings outside protected areas. They are known to attack livestock on ranches in western Uganda and through much of the ‘cattle corridor’ that separates the rift valley from the highlands around Kampala and Masaka.
Leopards in Uganda have been sighted in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo Valley National, Lake Mburo National Park, Mt Elgon National Park and Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
Sightings in Queen Elizabeth National Park are relatively numerous compared to other sites in Uganda, and this park likely is one of the country’s last strongholds for this species.
Leopards have also been sighted in the Buligi circuit area in northwest Murchison Falls Park, but this is likely due to higher patrol efforts here than anywhere else.
Most of the sightings are concentrated around ranger patrol posts in the park, and few patrols are in the park’s centre each year, and leopards are likely to be more abundant here than would indicate.
Only one sighting of a leopard has occurred in Ajai Wildlife Reserve from the ranger collected data.
Leopards have been seen throughout most of Kidepo Valley National Park but more commonly in the Narus valley. Again, the sightings are likely to result from patrol effort differences, although ungulate numbers are In Narus Valley than in the Kidepo Valley. Hence, it’s apparent that leopards are more numerous in the Narus valley.
Tourists on Uganda safari game drives have frequently been sighting leopards west of Lake Mburo National Park, with some sightings on the ranch lands to the north of the park.
These ranchlands are seasonal grazing areas for many of the park’s ungulates, which move here in the wet seasons. An ongoing pilot sport hunting project in this area is encouraging wildlife conservation on these ranchlands.
Another stronghold for leopards in Uganda is Mt Elgon National Park, a montane forest with alpine vegetation at high altitudes in the east. Most of the sightings of leopards are in the lower altitude montane forest or the degraded forest at the edge of the park.
Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve has also recorded some leopard sightings since observations started in 2007.