The leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is an iconic cat, a member of the world renowned Big Five, and symbolic of stealth, cunning and concealment.
Amongst the African cat family, only the lion is bigger in size than the leopard. A worthy competitor and survivor in the wild, leopards are adaptable to a wide range of habitats, represented by the fact that adult body masses can vary between 30 to 90 kilogrammes depending on habitat selection. Apart from the African savannahs, leopards occur globally and can survive in deserts and snow environments. There are nine subspecies of leopard.
Leopards are formidable tree climbers and spend many hours snoozing in trees. They can climb to the higher thinner branches of trees. Where other competing carnivores co-inhabit, such as lions, hyenas and wild dogs, leopards will haul their kill into a tree, where they can leisurely feed on their prey to avoid being robbed of a hard-earned meal. It is this hauling ability that demonstrates the enormous power and strength a leopard has. Recently on Ingwelala, Members witnessed a leopard hauling a baby elephant into a tree. There are legendary accounts of leopards hauling young giraffes into trees.
Leopards are usually solitary, except when courting and mating and of course when females are raising their young. Witnessing adult leopard courtship and mating rituals is rare because leopards are secretive by nature, working hard to remain concealed and not be seen! A huge part of their hunting success is concealment and stealth, culminating in the element of surprise when pursuing prey.
Gestation is around three and a half months. Two cubs are usually born, the female hiding the cubs and moving them every few days in the early days. The cubs are blind at birth. Suckling lasts for three months, well after been introduced to a meat diet. They become independent at about 13 months and if both siblings have survived the siblings may stick together for a few more months before seeking their own territories. Both genders have territories which they defend against their own gender. Male territories may overlap with several female territories.
An inquisitive (and brave!) tree squirrel
Two leopards and an impala kill
Another special sighting of two leopards together
Diet varies considerably, another survival trait that assists leopards to live across a range of different habitats. Where impalas are present this usually makes up the bulk of the diet. Anything from birds to reptiles, rodents, insects and even fish (in drying up pools) are targeted. Leopards are more active at night; some literature suggests that hunting success at night is higher than day time hunting. Sight and hearing are extremely well developed to assist with hunting.
Leopards produce a range of vocal sounds. The well-known sound is the call that is described as a “deep rasping cough”.
Both genders scent-mark their territories by spraying urine on vegetation.
More interesting facts about leopards:
- The spots are called rosettes.
- No two leopards have the same markings, their rosettes are individual.
- The rosettes ensure that leopards are extremely well camouflaged.
- Leopards are excellent swimmers.
- Black panthers are the melanistic (dark) form of leopards.
- Males are larger and heavier than females, especially the head and neck.
- There is no seasonal breeding.
- They can go for long periods without drinking water.
- IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species classifies leopards as near threatened.
- In the wild longevity is around 15 years.
- Despite seeking refuge from other predators in trees, leopards spend most of their time on terra firma.
Leopard on the alert
A large male leopard resting up
A leopard and sunset
Facts researched on the Internet. Words by John Llewellyn. Pictures kind courtesy of Charlie Lynam.