Panthera pardus pardus
Local names:  mbwili, mkango, ingwe, shiluwe

Leopards are the second biggest African cat and are the most solitary of all the big cats.

There are nine sub-species of leopards worldwide, with the African Leopard (P p pardus) being found in Zambia.  The other eight are all found in Asia and Arabia:  Indian (P p fusca), Arabian (P p nimr), Persian or Caucasian (P p ciscaucasica), North-Chinese (P p japonensis), Amur or Far Eastern (P p orientalis), Indochinese (P p delacouri), Javan (P p melas) and the Sri Lankan (P p kotiya).

Leopards are a key species - they are a top predator who live and hunt in a wide variety of different environments and are essential in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.


Shoulder Height:  45 – 80 cm
Length:  100 – 190 cm
Weight:  60-70 kg
Tail length:  70-95 cm
Age:  10 to 19 years

Leopards are powerful predators, with a muscular heavy body, thick short limbs and broad powerful paws.  There is huge variation in coat colour, pattern and body size, and so they can be individually identified by their distinctive black ‘rosettes’ which contrast with their pale background coat, and white underparts.  Smaller, solid black spots mark their head, throat, chest and lower limbs, with larger black patches on their belly.

Their powerful jaws enable them to kill and dismember prey and their long sensitive whiskers allow them to ‘feel’ their way as they hunt at night.  Leopards are very agile climbers, with heavily-muscled shoulders and forelimbs which enable them to haul their prey high up into trees, keeping it safe from scavengers.



Leopards are the most solitary of all the big cats.  Young stay with their mothers until they become independent at about 22 months.  Male leopards are solitary and territorial, with their home ranges varying due to prey availability and the type of habitat they live in.  They are nocturnal, spending the day sleeping in dense bushes or draped over a tree limb and they are active, hunting at night.

Due to their acute hearing and vision and their ability to move silently.  They can stalk without being detected, then pounce on a wide variety of prey, from reptiles and fish to small birds and medium-sized antelopes.  They are strong, agile climbers, storing their kills in trees, hiding them from other large predators.

Leopards rarely meet with each other, instead they communicate through scent marking along commonly used routes and their boundaries.  They vocalise by ‘rasping’, which sounds like someone sawing through wood.  They also grunt when alarmed, and snarl, growl and hiss when enraged.  The white tip on their tail acts as a ‘follow me’ signal between mothers and their cubs.

Females give birth to a litter of two or three cubs after a gestation period of about 100 days in dense undergrowth.  Cubs then venture out into the open at six weeks and are weaned after three months. They stay with their mother until they are almost two years old, learning to hunt and pounce on a variety of objects through play.

Leopards can adapt to live in almost any habitat, and can be found in deserts, rocky hills, mountains, lowland forests, woodland, grasslands and in swamps.

Despite their size, leopards are vulnerable to other predators and when a mother is hunting, her cubs are defenceless from being killed by lions, hyenas, wild dogs, snakes and birds of prey





Population Size:  not known as the 700,000 estimate of individuals is thought to be wrong

Trend:  decreasing but the healthiest populations are in Southern Africa

African Leopards are classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.  Their wide ranging diet and ability to utilise many different habitats means that they have been able to survive the threats of decreasing habitats far better than other large cats.

Threats:  habitat loss, human wildlife conflict and the illegal trade in skins and teeth for traditional medicines.




Best places to see them in the wild:  South Luangwa, Kafue, and Lower Zambezi National Parks


Black and White Rhinoceros

Diceros bicornis minor and Ceratotherium simum
Local names – chipembele, sukulu

White Rhinos are the second largest land mammal in the world.

The name rhinoceros comes from the Greek meaning ‘nose horn’ and they are called rhinos for short.  A group of rhinos is called a ‘crash’.

There are five species of rhinos worldwide and Zambia is home to the two African species – the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) which live in woodland areas and the White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) which prefer more open grassland habitats.

Rhino are a key species – they are one of the oldest species of mammals and their protection also benefits all the flora and fauna that share their habitats. They are also a very popular tourist attraction and so contribute to the economy and to the development of tourism in the areas where they live.




White Rhinoceros

Shoulder Height:  1.5 – 1.8 metres
Length:  3.4 – 3.64 metres
Weight:  1,800 – 2,500 kgs
Age:  up to 50 years old

Black Rhinoceros
Shoulder Height:  1.6 metres
Length:  3 – 3.75 metres
Weight:  900 – 1,350 kgs
Age:  up to 40 years old

Rhinos have large bulky bodies with short stumpy legs.  They have two horns which are made of keratin, which is the same component as fingernails and hair in humans.  There is no difference in colour between black and white rhinos, both having thick grey skin with hair on their ears and tail. They have poor eyesight but a good sense of smell and hearing.

White rhinos are larger and get their name from the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ meaning ‘wide’ which describes the square shape of their mouth.  They are more commonly known as the square-lipped rhino.  They have a large head and pronounced shoulder hump.

Black rhino are smaller, with a pointed, prehensile upper lip.  They are more commonly known as the ‘hooked-lip’ rhino.



White rhinos are the most sociable of all the species, with six or more individuals associating together.  Females with their calves and young adults will group together whilst dominant males are usually solitary and occupy small home ranges.  Aggressive fights between males are rare.

White rhino graze on a variety of grasses, feeding and resting alternatively during the day and night and only need to drink every two to four days.  In the heat of the day they wallow at watering holes, or dust bathe, which keeps them cool and protects their skin from parasites.

Having poor eyesight they communicate with a wide variety of sounds, with calf squeaking to adults grunting and wailing.  They also communicate by scent-marking, marking their boundaries by spreading their dung in piles called ‘middens’, spraying urine and flattening vegetation with their feet and horns.

Females give birth to one young after a gestation period of 16 months.  A youngster will stay with its mothers until she has her next calf.  They are very agile and can run up to 40 km per hour.  A youngster will run in front of its mother when threatened.

They live on grasslands and open savanna woodlands, preferring flatter areas with bushes for shade and cover.


Black rhinos are more solitary and shy, occupying overlapping home ranges. Depending on the habitat they can be solitary and aggressive or semi-social and less territorial.  Females live with their latest calf, whilst males tend to live alone, defending their territories against rivals.  They are inquisitive and can be aggressive towards humans and other animals.

They browse on leaves, woody plants, twigs and herbs, foraging during the cooler mornings and afternoons.  They rest in the shade during the day and wallow at water holes.

As they have poor eyesight they mainly communicate through ‘scent-marking’.  Males will spray urine and use dung piles, called ‘middens’, to mark his territory and will rub scent glands located in their skin to leave distinctive scents against a rock or tree.  They also communicate vocally by grunting, sniffing and snorting.

Females give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of 15 months.  Youngsters remain with their mother until her next offspring arrives.  They can run up to 55 km per hour, changing direction very quickly and will charge through shrubs and bushes.  A youngster will run behind its mother when threatened.

They live in a variety of habitats from deserts to wooded grasslands, forests and wetlands.



White Rhinoceros Population Size:  estimated at between 19,666 and 21,085 individuals
Trend:  increasing

The White rhinoceros is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.  They have always been less common in Zambia and by the 1960s were locally extinct.  In 1964 they were re-introduced but by 1989 they had all been killed by poachers.  A second re-introduction took place in 1994 and today there is a small white rhino population in Mosi-au-Tunya National Park.

Threats:  poaching for their horns for the illegal wildlife trade.  White rhino are particularly vulnerable because they are unaggressive and live in ‘crashes’ making them easier to kill.


Black Rhinoceros Population Size:  estimated at over 5,400 individuals
Trend:  increasing

The Black rhinoceros is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.  Pre 1960 there are thought to have been as many as 12,000 black rhinos living across Zambia, but due to heavy poaching they were wiped out and by 1995 were declared locally extinct.  In 2003 a founder population of five black rhinos were re-introduced into a breeding program and today Zambia is home to a small population in North Luangwa National Park.

Threats:  poaching for their horns for the illegal wildlife trade and small isolated populations are prone to diseases and genetic impact due to inbreeding.


Best places to see them in the wild:   Mosi-au-Tunya National Park is home to our White rhino and Black rhino live in North Luangwa National Park

African Elephant

African Elephants

Savannah elephant – Loxodonta africana
Local names:  njovu, insofu

Forest elephant – Loxodonta africana cyclotis


African elephants are the largest land mammals in the world.

The name ‘elephant’ comes from the Greek word ‘elepha’ meaning ‘ivory’.

There are three different species of elephant – African forest elephant, African savannah elephant and Asian elephant.

Zambia is home to the larger savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana) which roam the grassy plains and woodlands; with the smaller forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) living in the tropical forests of west and central Africa.

Elephants are a key species – they help to maintain suitable habitats for many other animals, contributing to the maintenance of the savannas and open woodlands by seed dispersal and reducing tree density.



Shoulder Height:  2.5 – 3.3 metres
Length:  6 – 7.5 metres
Weight:  up to 6 tonnes
Tail length: 1 – 1.5 metres
Age:  60 – 70 years

Elephants are unmistakable iconic giants.  They have bulky bodies, stocky legs, large floppy ears and a long trunk.  Their skin is grey-brown in colour and is thick and wrinkly with a sparse scattering of bristly black hairs.  They have a tuft of black hairs at the end of their tail.

An elephant’s trunk has 150,000 muscles and is actually an extension of its upper lip and nose.  At the end are two prehensile ‘finger like’ protrusions which are covered in fine, sensory hairs.  It is so sensitive that it can pick up small leaves and fruit and so strong that they can use it to uproot trees.  It is also used to smell, suck up water for drinking and for communicating.

Their large floppy ears help to keep them cool.  In hot weather they increase the blood supply to the veins in their ears and flap them to cool their blood and their overall body temperature.  They also use their ears to make themselves look bigger when they feel threatened.

Both males and females have tusks which are actually large modified incisors.  Like the rest of their body, their tusks continue to grow throughout their lifetime.  They use their tusks for digging roots and for water, stripping bark from trees and as a weapon when fighting.

Elephants have a very good sense of hearing and smell, but poor eyesight.



Elephants live in complex social family units, called herds.  A herd consists of related females with their youngsters and is led by a dominate female, called a matriarch.  Males live in smaller bachelor herds or are solitary.

They spend over 16 hours a day feeding on a variety of grasses, leaves, branches, roots, fruit and bark.  An adult elephant requires 160 kilograms of food and can drink 200 litres of water a day.  They have a poor digestive system, only absorbing about 44% of the food they eat.

Elephant’s snore!  African elephants actually sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, on average sleeping for only two hours a night.  They can sleep both standing up and lying down.

They use a combination of both vocal and non-verbal ways to communicate.  Loud trumpeting may signify excitement, danger and aggression.  They also squeal and emit low-frequency rumbling, which can be heard by other elephants 8 kms away.  They are very tactile and will wrap trunks when they greet, lean against each other when feeding and mothers guide their calf by holding onto its tail.

Elephants cannot jump, but they are very good swimmers and they use their trunk as a snorkel.  They enjoy mud wallowing and dust bathing which helps to cool down in hot weather.

Females give birth to one calf after a gestation period of 22 months.  Their young will wean at about one to two years, but continuing suckling for three to four years.  Young elephants are very dependent on their mothers and on the other females, or aunts, in their herd.  They are very intelligent. Growing up in their herd they learn social and survival skills from the older females, such as what to eat and where to find good water sources.  Females stay with their herd for life whilst males are ‘pushed out’ of the herd when they reach puberty at about 14 years of age.

They live in a wide variety of habitats, including savannah grasslands, woodlands, forests, swamps and floodplains.  Elephants will travel long distances in search of food, water and shelter, walking 30 – 60 km a day.

Although they have no natural enemies, young elephants are preyed upon by lion, leopard, hyena and crocodiles.  When threatened they stand tall, raise their tusks and shake their heads.  Then they may flee, mock charge or even fully charge an intruder.  They are also very timid, running away from a bird or small animal that spooks them.



In March 2021 the African Elephant was classified as two distinct species

Population Size:  estimated at between 450,000 – 700,000



African Savannah Elephant ( Loxodonta africana)

Trend:  decreasing

Endangered on the IUCN Red List.  Over the past century, African savanna elephant subpopulations have declined across most of their range.  More recently, elephant populations have been steadily increasing regionally, with numbers higher than they were in the late 1970s in the Southern African region.  Savannah elephant population numbers have been increasing in the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area, , which holds the largest elephant subpopulation in Africa.  The IUCN’s last population numbers were updated in 2016, so more research and surveys are needed to find rough population estimates.


African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis)

Trend:  decreasing

Critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.  Despite downward trends, the IUCN’s assessment highlighted the impact that conservation efforts are now playing, especially with anti-poaching measures together with land-use management strategies, which seeks to foster human-wildlife coexistence.  These has resulted in some forest elephants now having well-managed conservation areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.


Threats:  habitat loss, human wildlife conflicts, climate change, poaching for their meat and the illegal trade in ivory.



Best places to see them in the wild:  South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, Kafue, Mosi-au-Tunya and Kasanka National Parks