A few years ago I was on safari in Kenya's Lake Nakuru and was enjoying a sundowner during an evening game drive. It was one of those late afternoons where the sun was lighting up the grass and bush is gorgeous golden colours and we were enjoying every minute of it. One of my friends said "Well, it is time to see a leopard. In all my trips to Africa I have never seen one." It took another 20 seconds for a leopard to appear, magically as if conjured up from the dense bush. It disappeared as fast as it came and this photo is all I managed to shoot.
A story like this begs the question" What are the best places in the world to see big cats like snow leopard, lion, leopard, tiger, jaguar and cheetah?
Let's start with the leopard - this was the third time I had been to Lake Nakuru and the third time I had seen a leopard. But these cats are shy - they live alone and hunt by ambush, so they are hard to spot. You need to be paying attention to the bush around you, listen for the alarm call of a baboon, an impala or a springbok. And to increase your chances, visit such places as Zambia's South Luangwa National Park, the Linyanti Marsh in Botswana, the Serengeti in Tanzania, private game reserves outside South Africa's Kruger Park or Etosha in Namibia. Outside of Africa, Sri Lanka's Yala National Park has the highest density of leopards in the world.
Also on many people's are lions. While they are fairly ubiquitous, you can still increase your chances of seeing them by visiting Tanzania, where the largest part of the world's lion population resides. Parks such as the Serengeti (and its extension in to Kenya, the Masai Mara), as well as remote Selous and Ruaha are famous for their huge numbers of lions. South Luangwa in Zambia and Kruger in South Africa are other good spots. And for a treat, Duba Plains, an island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, is home to a huge herd of buffalo. The lions that feed on them have learned how to tackle this most fearsome of creatures - quite the spectacle to witness!
The third big cat to live in Africa is the cheetah. On that same safari where I spotted the leopard I also saw a trio of cheetah on the prowl in Kenya's Masai Mara (which extends into Tanzania's Serengeti). But I have also seen them in Etosha (two in an hour) in Namibia. What those places have in common are the open savannas where cheetah can run at full speed to chase down their prey. Other places to see them are Northern Botswana, Ruaha in Tanzania and Kafue in Zambia. But arguably the best place to spot them is Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the border of South Africa and Botswana.
In South America meanwhile, Brazil's Pantanal wetlands are some of the most extensive swamps in the world. It is prime habitat for jaguar which are not being hunted here - when you spot them from a boat they do not run away. At night you can watch them using spotlights from the comfort of a vehicle. This Land of the Jaguar trip is an excellent one to spot them.
Over to Asia, where snow leopards roam the high grounds of the Himalaya. They are about as elusive as them come but by following the trails left by their prey, the bharal and blue sheep, and by looking for evidence left by the leopards themselves, you can increase your chances of seeing them. Come along on this In Search of the Snow Leopard trip.
Finally, the king of all cats, the tiger, is best seen in India. The three top parks are Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore and Kanha National Parks. Of these, Ranthambore is the most accessible, which means you will have to put up with other people wanting to see the same thing. As it is more remote, Bandhavgarh will give you a more intimate experience and you can combine it with the fantastic scenery and tigers of Kanha.
No matter which of the big cats you are hoping to see, at Adventure Coordinators we will get you there and while sightings of wildlife are never guaranteed, we will maximize your chances of spotting one!