Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The most common of Africa’s large felines, the leopard often lives in close proximity to humans, but it is rarely seen because of its secretive, solitary nature. By virtue of its ecological and ethological attributes, the leopard is an exceptionally adaptable predator. In undisturbed conditions, it occupies every biome in Africa south of the Sahara except the most arid. In certain habitats, notably woodland and thornbush areas, it is reputed to reach remarkably high densities, even as high as one per 2 square kilometre. In lowland and montane forests, its densities may sometimes be still 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 with more success than almost any other large wild animal. It can even persist in more or less advanced agricultural areas, though often in very reduced numbers.
A leopard differs from all of the other carnivores in Uganda in that there are regular sightings of this species outside protected areas. They are known to cause livestock loss on ranches in the west of the country and through much of the ‘cattle corridor’ that separates the western rift from the highlands around Kampala and Masaka. They hunt using stealth and power, often getting to within 5 meters of their intended prey before pouncing, and they habitually store their kill in a tree to keep it from being poached by other large predators.
These impressively shy cats can be distinguished from cheetahs by their rosette-shaped spots and more powerful build, as well as by their preference for wooded or rocky habitats. They are found in virtually all habitats which offer adequate cover, and are present in most Ugandan national parks and forest reserves.
Meanwhile, the international fur trade, together with the poaching it has induced, has depressed leopard populations in several parts of Africa. We do not have any good measure of population numbers anywhere for this species. However we do have sightings from rangers which are collected while they are on patrol in the protected areas managed by UWA.
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-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
Sightings in Queen Elizabeth National Park are relatively numerous in comparison with other sites in Uganda. It is likely that this park is one of the last strongholds for this species in the country.
Where else are leopards found in Uganda
Leopards have mainly been sighted in the Buligi circuit area in north west Murchison Falls Park but this is likely to be due to higher patrol effort here also. Most of the sightings are concentrated around ranger patrol posts in the park. There are few patrols in the centre of the park each year and leopards are likely to be more abundant here than the figure below indicates. 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. This again is likely to be a result of patrol effort differences, although ungulate numbers are very low in the Kidepo Valley in the park and hence it would be expected that leopards are more numerous in the Narus valley.
The leopard, on Africa safari, has been frequently sighted in the west of Lake Mburo National Park with one sighting on the ranch lands to the north of the park. These ranchlands are seasonal grazing areas for many of the ungulates in the park and they move here in the wet seasons. A pilot sport hunting project in this area is encouraging conservation of wildlife on these ranchlands.
Mount Elgon national Park is a montane forest with alpine vegetation at high altitude. Most of the sightings of leopards are in the lower altitude montane forest or in degraded forest at the edge of the park.
Only two leopards have been sighted in the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve since observations started to be recorded in 2007.
Ref: The status of Panthera pardus in Africa south of the sahara by IUCN