Leopards:  Adaptable Big Cat


(C)  A. Lopez

 

This big cat is similar to the Jaguar in appearance but it lacks its massive head and robust physique. It has spots,  but they are solid unlike the Jaguar's.  This cat can also live in many different areas and even some that are very close to man.  There is one story of a leopard in Nepal that scientists had put a radio collar on.  They followed the leopard into the village and it kept trying to capture a goat from a herd kept in the village shed.  Daylight came and the leopard found that it couldn't escape so he spent the day in a woodpile amidst the hustle and bustle of daily village life. Nobody not even the dogs knew it was there.  It did escape when night came......  


(C)  A. Lopez

APPEARANCE/  SIZE:

These cats are not as big as a tiger nor as fast as a cheetah.  Although true, they are very special indeed!  They are remarkable killers! They may be small in size as compared to the lion, but they often hunt prey 2 or 3 times their own size. They are powerful cats that can  pull  220 -  300 pounds of a kill up into a tree  to protect it and avoid larger predators.  This is no easy feat in some cases.  Males weigh from 130 - 140 pounds and females weigh from 82 - 130  pounds.  Their spinal cord and short legs allow them to make long jumps. They can run agilely along branches without taking a wrong step. Their tail reveals its mood.  When it swings from side to side, it is experiencing repressed tension.  When it lashes the air or moves the tip up and down, it is a sign that the animal is preparing to charge.  The base of its coat varies from a beautiful golden color to a pale yellow. They have solid spots and they tend to have them on the limbs, flank, hindquarters, and head. They usually have rosettes on the remainder of the body.  Their coats are such good camouflage, that you could be staring at a spotted leopard and not know that it is there. This helps make them one of the most elusive and hard to track of all the big cats.  There are all black leopards that occur throughout its home ranges.  Although true, a black leopard seen in the African bush is very rare indeed!  It is mostly found in Asia and especially in Malaysia.  I have even heard of "white" leopards being born and were being raised at a wildlife sanctuary.  These leopards caused great excitement!  Unfortunately, they grew into their spotted coats when they grew  up.

 


(C)  A. Lopez

HOME RANGES/  DISTRIBUTIONS/  PREY:

They live in a diverse range of habitats.  They live in the deserts of the Kalahari and inhabit the great rain forest areas of  Africa.  It is found throughout much of Africa, parts of Israel, the Middle East,  Pakistan,  India, Southeast Asia, as well as China and Amur.  In 1926, the frozen body of a leopard was even found in the Kilimanjaro crater at an altitude of 19,000 feet!  For the most part, they live in wooded areas.  They are efficient predators and are equipped and camouflaged to survive in all of these areas. They are the most widespread of all the big cats.   Males usually have territories which may be from 6 to 36  square miles in size.  Male territories are about six times bigger then females.  A male's territory usually overlaps the territory of one or more females.  Females that have their own territory choose one that provides for her daily activities and essentials for her life.  This includes food, water, hiding places to bring  up her cubs and the finding of mates when needed.  Sometimes encounters between two female leopards will occur in a single territory, but they are usually peaceful.  This is so because both may be related to each other (mother/daughter).  When a daughter leaves her mother, she generally occupies an area nearby or even a section of her mother's.  Although true, a mother leopard with cubs can be very aggressive.  For a young male, when he leaves his mother, first he remains nearby  and then gradually moves farther away before entering a nomadic stage.  He may continue to visit the area, but will leave completely when he fully matures.  While he is still near his mother's territory, he is very careful not to run into the resident male.  If there is a confrontation, things can become very violent.

For both males and females, it is important to them that  there is cover to lie up in and from which to stalk prey.  Sometimes they don't have this so they make due with bushes, grasses, rocks and other things to hide and stalk their prey.  The leopard is a solitary hunter and hunts mostly on the ground.  They are good enough swimmers to cross any river in their path.  It hunts both larger and smaller animals.   Leopards rely on their stealth and surprise to catch their meals.  The sequence of their hunt is that they search, stalk, sprint, takedown, and a killing bite to the throat.  This can take a very long time from the beginning to the swift kill at the end.  They do not rush their stalking and make very sure that their prey is not aware that they are there.  A leopard can leap 20 feet without apparent effort.  This gives them considerable advantage in capturing their prey like baboons and monkeys.  Leopards are very resourceful and it is thought that leopards are aware of wind changes and are careful not to have their prey pick up their scent.  Also, they may strike when they are in trees and leap onto the backs of their prey below, but this is not seen everywhere.  They do store their prey in trees which is much different and very unique to the big cats.  Sometimes they have more then one kill in a tree.  They are not being greedy, but when a leopard hunts, their success rate isn't great.  This is because they don't tend to use up as much energy when they are chasing their prey.  When they are able to kill a few animals within a same area at once, they will do so without hesitation.  Leopards hide their prey up a tree  so that scavenging hyenas or lions cannot steal their prey.  No carcass goes unnoticed in the African bush for very long.  Sometimes they do lose out and a very strategically hidden carcass in a tree slips from a leopard's grasp and falls to the ground.  Then, a  group of hyenas or  lionesses claim it as their own....The leopard then can only watch in frustration.....They hunt monkeys, deer, village goats and calves, dogs, buffalo calves, genets, aardwolf, spring hare, bat-eared foxes, porcupines, jackals, gazelle, and bush pig.  They have the most varied diet of the big cats.


(C) Lisa Purcell

REPRODUCTION / SPECIES AGAINST SPECIES:

They have a gestation period of 90 to 110 days and two or three young are born blind in a secluded den.  The cubs weigh one pound at birth and open their eyes at 6 - 10 days old.  Leopard mothers spend most of her time with her cubs during the first few days.  When she hunts, she remains in the area and returns every few hours to suckle her cubs.  She also may change their hiding place.  The mother then will leave the lair more often after a few days.  The cubs spend long periods alone  hidden but unprotected.  They remain silent even if they are hungry.  The mother returns after darkness and alerts them she has  arrived by emitting a low growl.   The cubs begin to walk a little after 2 weeks and she continues to leave them alone for the first 6 to 8 weeks of their life.  The mortality rate of leopard cubs is very high.  For those that do survive, the mother continues to move them to increase their safety.  During this time, leopard cubs play with anything in their path or with their mother when she is there.  They have eaten meat before they reach 8 weeks.  The mother starts to wean them by 3 to 4 months.  They start to follow their mother at this time.  The white patch on the tip of her tail allows them to keep an eye on her in the tall grass.  When she kills, the cubs eat first and then the mother will only eat her fill when their bellies are full.  When she goes hunting, she still leaves them alone.  If she does not find anything quickly, she may be gone for 24 hours.  Young cubs do not follow their mother when she hunts because she has to remain hidden to the prey.  The cubs cannot watch her in action.  While they are alone, they play and this hones in the skills for later hunting and killing their prey.  Leopard mothers carry live animals, usually baby antelope, to their cubs to "play" with them.  This is how they further develop their skills that they will need to survive.  The young remain with their mother until 15 to 24 months.   Towards the end, the mother becomes more and more unfriendly with them as they approach her.  When they do leave, they may remain close or within her territory.  After a time, the males usually travel a great distance from where they were born.   When they do travel a great distance, they are at risk of starvation or are at risk of being killed by competitors, especially man.  

I have seen tigers and lions kill leopards (on documentaries) as well.  Tigers and lions most likely did this because they were in their territory and they did not want to compete with them for prey or they saw them as a possible threat to their cubs.  Hyenas usually frequently steal their meals.  A female leopard usually cannot run off a hyena.  A male leopard has more luck with this.  However, if there is a group of hyenas, then the male will have to flee.  Crocodiles can also steal a leopard's meal.  There have been cases of leopards being killed by crocodiles after they ventured into the water.  Primates show a lot of hostility towards leopards.  The baboons are the ones that are so well organized and aggressive, that they can cause serious problems to a leopard or even kill it.  These baboons have fearsome teeth........ Although true, these primates are not as aggressive during the nighttime and leopards have been known to kill a baboon (especially if one is isolated or hurt).


(C) R. Schmode

 

 

RESOURCES I HAVE USED AND ALL RIGHTS RESERVED AND ACKNOWLEDGED. ALL TEXT COPYRIGHT MATERIAL. NONPROFIT EDUCATIONAL SITE ONLY:

Lumpkin, Susan and Seidensticker, John. 1991. Great Cats Majestic Creatures of the Wild. Rodale Press, Pa. Pg. 35 and pages 106, and 108.

Bauer, Edwin A. 2003. The Last Big Cats. Voyageur Press, Inc., MN. Pages 44-45

Denis-Huot, Christine and Michel. 2006 The Lords of the Savannah. White Star Publishing, Italy.  Pages 22, 78, 81, 106, 107, 158, 159, 199.


(C) Lisa Purcell


(C)  A. Lopez


(C)  A. Lopez


  (C) Lisa Nielson
 


(C)  John Milbank


(C)  John Milbank


(C)
George Kaczmarek

 


(C)  A. Lopez
 

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