Leopards usually shy away from humans, and are normally not dangerous if you leave them alone. They are only likely to become aggressive when threatened or provoked. If wounded, cornered or suddenly disturbed, they can become exceedingly dangerous. Stumbling across a female with cubs can also result in a dangerous situation. !Xõ trackers of the Kalahari maintain that it is dangerous to follow a Leopard’s spoor, since it may ambush you if it realises you are following it to where her cubs are hidden. And following a wounded Leopard is one of the most dangerous situations a hunter can encounter.
In certain parts of Africa healthy Leopards have preyed on humans, usually killing women and children. Such behaviour is, however, atypical of Leopards in the southern African subregion. Old and sick Leopards, unable to catch wild prey, may, however, very exceptionally attack humans.
Apparently one can pass close by a hiding Leopard and as long as your eyes don’t meet, it will allow one to pass. But the moment it is aware that one has noticed it, it will flee, or if cornered, may attack. !Xõ trackers maintain that you must never look a Leopard in the eyes when confronted by it, since you will infuriate it. By pretending to ignore it, it will most likely choose to avoid contact.
If you see a Leopard and you are not walking towards it, continue walking and do not look at it or stand still. If it realises that it has been seen, it may feel threatened and attack. When you encounter a Leopard at close range, and if it warns you by roaring, retreat slowly, moving sideways away rather than directly backwards, and don’t stare at it. Try not to frighten the Leopard, and don’t throw anything at it. Don’t feed it as this is likely to make it bolder and possibly even aggressive.
Once committed to a full attack, only a fatal bullet will stop a charging Leopard. It charges very fast and low on the ground. It embraces its victim, with claws extended, and full use is made of the powerful dew claws. The victim is mauled with teeth and all four clawed feet, and the killing bite is directed at the back of the head or neck or the throat, the victim being throttled or has the jugular vein severed.
In one instance a Leopard attempting to attack a young Baboon was mobbed by the troop from which it fled. The noise created by the troop was sufficient to deter the Leopard. I know of one incident in a private nature reserve where a charging Leopard was, shouted down, but apparently the Leopards in that area have become so used to people that they are relatively ‘tame’ compared to Leopards in the wilder regions of southern Africa. In the Kalahari, for example, !Xõ trackers maintain that shouting will not stop a charging Leopard, and that you will have to kill it to save your own life. It would therefore appear that the reaction of Leopards may vary in different areas, depending on the amount of contact they have had with people.
There have been cases where people successfully defended themselves against Leopards with knives and even used stones to hit them on the head. In some cases unarmed people have been able to choke the Leopard to death or make the Leopard retreat by punching it on the nose. There are probably few people capable of such feats, but since one does not always carry firearms in many of the areas where Leopards are found, one might well keep in mind that in the extremely unlikely event of being attacked by a Leopard, it is possible to defend oneself.