Best time to go on a big cat safari

The best time to go on a big cat safari depends entirely on which cats you want to see and when. Trips to see Siberian tigers in Russia and snow leopards in the Himalayas run only in the bitterly cold winter months. The parched dry season from March to June is prime time for watching tigers and leopards in India and Sri Lanka, when vegetation is thinner and the animals need to range further afield in search of water sources. As there is a broad mix of small group and tailor made tours available you have plenty of flexibility on your travel dates. Remember, you might have the best guide in the reserve and the very latest technology to assist you, but if the cats don’t feel like making an appearance there’s little you can do. But traveling at just the right time is a way to make your own luck.

Big cat safaris, month by month

From November to March, snow leopards in the Himalayas are forced to descend to lower altitudes in search of prey such as ibex and bharal, and this is about the only time they can be seen. Siberian tigers and Amur leopards in Russia are similarly forced to travel further to try and find food in winter. Placement of deer carcasses near hides attracts them, and their tracks can often be seen clearly in thick snow. If you don’t mind chilly mornings, then December and January are great months to admire the tigers in the national parks around India’s Madhya Pradesh, before the temperatures begin to get uncomfortably hot from March onwards. February to June is the dry season in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, and with water levels lower, leopards can frequently be seen around the lagoons where their prey gathers to drink. Pumas can be seen in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park at any time of year, but April and May are especially lovely times for photographers to visit for the autumnal scenery, crisp air and fewer crowds. The diverse wildlife of Kruger National Park is also on display throughout the year but is especially prolific during the July to September dry season. There is thin vegetation, and prey animals congregating around waterholes often leads to dramatic confrontations with lions. July also marks the start of dry season in Brazil’s marshy Pantanal region, continuing through to around November. Jaguars are often seen on the riverbanks over this period and you can get around on foot or horseback in the southern Pantanal. From early September into October much of Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is closed to visitors. Safaris to see clouded leopards in Malaysian Borneo’s Sabah state are best done in the short dry season between August and September, though even then rainfall is far from unlikely. Expect high humidity still, and temperatures ranging from 27°C to 32°C.

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Martin Royle, director of our supplier Royle Safaris, on watching tigers and leopards in Russia:
“In terms of our Russian trips the most common questions we’re asked by people before travel are nearly always about the weather and what to bring. Naturally I provide a comprehensive kit list to that inquiry, but it is basically warm layers (lots of layers). The temperatures in Russia tend to be between -5°C and -30°C with snowfall regular. There are no pathways, the trails are covered in snow (sometimes 2-3ft deep) and there are often frozen streams to cross to get to and from the hides, so you need to be prepared for that.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: flowcomm] [Intro: Eric Kilby] [Martin Royle Quote: Albinfo]