For many visitors to the bush, the art of tracking and following an animal is both mystical and fascinating to experience.  One of the oldest known art forms, tracking is as ancient as man itself yet today it is a diminishing aspect of indigenous culture which is being kept alive by the Tracker Academy.  In this series of posts, sponsored by the Tracker Academy, we aim to help you understand how to identify and follow tracks when you are on your next safari.  Of course, there is no substitute for experience and so we encourage you to come and visit us at Londolozi and spend time with our trackers who have over 120 years of experience combined…

Here are a couple of important things to look for and remember when you are next attempting to track Africa’s most elusive Big Cat – The Leopard…

    •  The leopard track appears as a typical cat’s ‘pug mark’ with four clear toe pads – measuring 8 to 10cm in length
    •  Male’s tracks are longer and broader than the females. The length of the male’s back foot is 9cm and females’ are approx. 8cm (average measured at Londolozi).
    •  The female’s toes are slightly more slender than the males.
    • No claws show unless the animal is running. Three typical lobes can be found on the back (main) pad of the animal.
    •  Front track is broader but slightly shorter than the hind track.
    •  Leopard tracks can be confused with hyena (which has claws) and lion cubs (6 months to 1 year). Lion cub tracks have a more distinct inset in the three lobes at the back of the main pad.
Female Leopard Track

Female Leopard Track

  •  The track sequence is typical of the cats – with it registering (hind foot on top of front foot) when the animal is walking slowly or stalking.
  •  Leopards are by far the most difficult animal to track and find on foot. They tread very lightly, they are solitary, and they move in unpredictable directions – particularly when hunting. When approached they will often crouch in a thicket, allowing the tracker to walk by completely unaware, not more than five meters away!
  •  It is virtually impossible to track a leopard, track-for-track, in the Kruger area. Experienced trackers need to use their knowledge of leopard behaviour, look for the slightest impression indicating a track, and listen carefully to alarm calls – birds, tree squirrels, vervet monkeys and antelope will all produce an alarm call at the first sight of a leopard.

I’m very interested to answer any questions you may have on tracking leopards, as well as to hear your own stories and experiences whilst out tracking in the bush.  Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below…

Filed under Leopards Tracking

About the Author

Alex Van Den Heever

Contributor

Alex spent his formative years growing up on a cattle farm in the Western Cape, South Africa. After completing his studies in Marketing and Business Management, he joined world-renowned Londolozi game reserve in 1995 as a game ranger. Alex’s greatest fascination during his ...

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9 Comments

on In the Footsteps of the Leopard

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Arden Zalman
Guest

Thanks for the info. Fascinating.

Raisa
Guest

Tracking is something I would love to try myself! Thanks for the Tracking Academy of this interesting serie. Are those leopard tracks genuine and untouched? How much heavier is a one year old male lion compairing to adult female leopard? Well, as everybody (here) knows, lions usually walk with their pride or coalition, not alone so much.

Alex van den Heever
Guest

Hi Raisa,

Thank you for your interest! Yes, indeed the leopard track photos are untouched. That is an interesting question – I would guess the female leopard would be slightly heavier. However, it depends entirely on how efficient the pride is in providing food to the cubs. Lion cubs who eat well grow quicker, particularly in the first 2 years of their lives.

I plan to do a post on the difference between lioness and male leopard tracks’ sometime soon. These are often confused.

prasanth
Guest

hi…. this is prasanth from india .I study in IIT guwahati and our college is rumored to have a leopard living among us. Is there a safe way for me to track it down? I find all the articles on leopards relating to the African species .Does the demo graphical changes of Africa to India brig about any changes in the natural habits of the animal?I would be much obilized to know any more details.

Nina
Guest

Hi there

We have just moved to a farm in Southport, South Coast, Kwazulu Natal. On Sunday I spotted some distinct prints that looked like cat prints. The front print had a pad and three lobes, no nail markings and the back print had a pad and four lobes with distinct nail markings. The back print measured 8cm across the print. Please give me an address and I will send you a pic.

Kind Regards
Nina Deysel

Donnie
Guest

Hi there. I live on a farm in EC and I am working with the landmark foundation basically just tending to some trail cams they lent me. I got a nice pic of a leopard a while back but I’ve decided that it was a bit boring just putting up cameras. I want to start tracking them and I would just like to ask you how well does those antenna devises work to track a colored leopard in very mountainous terrain. because large parts of the riverbed in the Grootriviers poort ( where I usually see their tracks) is very rocky and so I cant simply rely on footprints alone.

Hailey
Guest

This may be an off the wall question but I was watching the Disney TV show “The Lion Gaurd” and in the show they made a comment about Leopard tracks they found and it showed tracks with a large set of prints next to a noticeably smaller set of prints. And the characters even commented on the size difference. Anyway, I’m just curious if there’s any realism to this.

Amy Attenborough

Hi Hailey. No we haven’t seen the show. Did they compare lion and leopard prints or were they various sized leopard prints? Lions have substantially larger feet than leopards and male leopards will have bigger feet than female leopards who will have bigger feet than young leopards. I hope this helps to answer your question. Many thanks, Amy

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