Spotted. A leopard is in your sights.

Leopards are elusive creatures. They’re ace climbers and are often lurking amid the branches, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey, entirely camouflaged by the foliage. But leopards are a wide-ranging species and India is home to several kinds.

Snow Leopards

Panthera Uncia

To see this feline in its natural habitat in the Himalayas is a once in a lifetime experience. The ‘ghost of the Himalaya’ moves like a wisp of mist, so stealthily, that you don’t see it until its right in front of you.

To see a snow leopard leap from the cliff’s edge to snag its prey is an unbelievable sight. The sheer power of the animal as it hunts with clockwork precision, is breathtaking. At Encounters Asia, we are in love with this mystical creature. We regularly lead wildlife and photography expeditions deep into the forests of Hemis National Park, to observe the snow leopard in its natural habitat.

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The Indian Leopard

Panthera Pardus Fusca

An apex predator and a master of camouflage, the Indian Leopard is one wily creature. It has a wide range and is found in many parts of India — yet one rarely sees it, unless it wants to reveal itself.

They’re extremely adaptive and their colour and markings vary depending on the terrain. They also co-exist fairly peacefully with other carnivores such as tigers, wild dogs, bears and wolves — and most remarkable of all, human beings.

In fact, its this human-animal co-existence that makes spotting leopards in Bera and Jawai, in the west of Rajasthan, such a unique experience. With its craggy cliffs, thorn forest, and narrow caves, the terrain is ideal.

In this part of India, leopards roam untroubled by the people who live in the area. This leopard population has been rescued thanks to the efforts of ardent wildlife conservationists who convinced the state government to disallow the granite mining leases that would have ravaged the leopard population.

Some of our favourite places to spot leopards are Panna, Kanha, Pench and Satpura. Pench, in particular, has some amazing leopard sightings. Dense foliage and sharp cliff faces, with an abundant prey base and the Ken River flowing swiftly through the park, make it a leopard’s perfect playground.

The Black Panther

The ‘black panther’ has a reputation of mythical proportions — but the truth is that it’s actually a bit of a myth, because there’s no such creature.

The black panther is a melanistic leopard that has no spots, due to a peculiar genetic mutation. That being said, it’s a rare sight, and quite dramatic.

A young, muscular male, who inhabits the forests of Nagarhole, is a star attraction. Keep your cameras ready.

An alpha male in every way, he often steps out onto the path to make a brief appearance, while you’re on your game drive, before disappearing back into the undergrowth. Recently, there have also been sightings of black panthers in parks like Pench and Tadoba. It may not be a sub-species, per se, but it’s certainly a fantastic sight.

The Clouded Leopard

Neofelis Nebulosa

Did you know that the Clouded Leopard is one of the most ancient cat species in the world?

This rare “small big cat” is not as large in its proportions, but is related more closely to its “big cat” counterparts than to smaller felines. A nocturnal creature, it inhabits the farthest reaches of the North-East, like Arunachal Pradesh’s Namdapha National Park. But when you do catch sight of it, it’s well worth the effort, because it’s a beautiful creature.

Compact in size, it’s fur is covered in distinctive markings that give it a magical appearance. It’s unusual, because it is one of only two cats that can descend from a tree head first.

It neither purrs nor roars. Instead, it has an interesting hiss and growl, which form its communication with other members of its species. It lurks in the trees and strikes when the moment is right. The Clouded Leopard is a carnivore, and it feeds on a rich diet of smaller species like macaques, loris, and even small deer and wild boar.