Changing Planet

Tracking Leopards

When you’re on Safari in South Africa, you want and expect to see the big charismatic animals, especially big cats like lions and leopards. After all this is where they live and when you’ve gone to the trouble to travel such a long distance to visit, it would seem as if the least the animals could do is welcome you with an entertaining show. These thoughts are given considerable support by years of captivating National Geographic photos from Africa, but the reality on the ground is; it’s not as easy as it looks to find big cats.

First of all it takes patience, even if you saw the leopards at sunset by sunrise when you go back to find them it may take hours to spot them again if you see them at all. The fact that the guides and trackers do usually find what you’re looking for is proof of their exceptional skill at reading the subtlest signs, whether it’s tracks, broken branches, poop, or the calls of other animals.

Recently at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, guide Helen Young took me looking for lions and leopards and talked with me about how the guides and trackers sometimes have to get out of the vehicles and go on foot to find the big cats. This is part of the interview which airs in full this week on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.” It also shows some of the cats we found thanks to her tracking skills.

Boyd Matson, in his work for National Geographic, has been bitten, scratched, or pooped on, and occasionally kissed by most of the creatures found at your local zoo. What he refers to as his job, others might describe as a career spent attending summer camp for adults. Currently Matson is the host of the weekly radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.” Conducting interviews from the studio and from the field, Matson connects with some of the greatest explorers and adventurers on the planet to transport listeners to the far corners of the world and to the hidden corners of their own backyards. Matson also writes about his experiencs in his monthly column, “Boyd Matson Unbound” for National Geographic Traveler magazine, produces videos for National, and serves as a spokesperson for the National Geographic Society.
  • Guy Ellis

    Dear Boyd,

    After reading your article above, I believe you would be interested in the Leopard ID Project, Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa.

    The project is an Endangered Wildlife Trust Initiative. I am an ambassador for the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the founder of the project.

    The project relies on the public, professional guides and photographers to submit their photos, together with where and when the animal was seen. We currently have over 350 Identified leopards on record since the project began 3 months ago. This is massive for leopard conservation in Southern Africa.

    We recently decided to take only 6 members of the public per month tracking leopards with us on a leopard tracking safari. We get the public involved on foot and on vehicle in tracking techniques, as well as visual and non visual identification techniques. The reason for this is not only to raise funds and awareness for the project, but in order to identify and photograph these elusive cats in their natural environment.

    Our team consists of expert leopard guides, trackers and conservationists. This is a once in a lifetime experience which cannot be had anywhere else with anyone else. I am personally a businessman and I do it purely out of a passion for wildlife, photography and conservation.

    We have very big plans for the project, including spot pattern recognition software, gps mathematical models, a first ever documentary into the tru lives of leopards and once in a lifetime leopard tracking safaris. Our first safari will be hosted this weekend.

    Please contact me or visit our website for more infomation.

    Best regards and yours in conservation,

    Guy Ellis

  • sam

    the Leopard is a kind of small big cat that will hunt things bigger than it. Isn’t that amazing. If I was a guide there I would bring a weapon just in case

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