||About 28 inches at the
||Up to 140 pounds
||21 years in captivity
||Bush and riverine
The most secretive and elusive of the large carnivores, the
leopard is also the shrewdest. Pound for pound, it is the
strongest climber of the large cats and capable of killing
prey larger than itself.
Leopards come in a wide variety of coat colors, from a light
buff or tawny in warmer, dryer areas to a dark shade in deep
forests. The spots, or rosettes, are circular in East African
leopards but square in southern African leopards.
Dense bush in rocky surroundings and riverine forest are their
favorite habitats, but leopards adapt to many places in both
warm and cold climates. Their adaptability, in fact, has
helped them survive the loss of habitat to increasing human
settlement. Leopards are primarily nocturnal, usually resting
during the daytime in trees or thick bush. The spotted coat
provides almost perfect camouflage.
When a leopard stalks prey, it keeps a low profile and
slinks through the grass or bush until it is close enough to
launch an attack. When not hunting, it can move through herds of
antelopes without unduly disturbing them by flipping its tail
over its back to reveal the white underside, a sign that it is
not seeking prey.
Leopards are basically solitary and go out of their way to
avoid one another. Each animal has a home range that overlaps
with its neighbors; the male's range is much larger and
generally overlaps with those of several females. A leopard
usually does not tolerate intrusion into its own range except to
mate. Unexpected encounters between leopards can lead to fights.
Leopards growl and spit with a screaming roar of fury when
angry and they purr when content. They announce their presence
to other leopards with a rasping or sawing cough. They have a
good sense of smell and mark their ranges with urine; they also
leave claw marks on trees to warn other leopards to stay away.
Leopards continually move about their home ranges, seldom
staying in an area for more than two or three days at a time.
With marking and calling, they usually know one another's
whereabouts. A male will accompany a female in estrus for a week
or so before they part and return to solitude.
As they grow, cubs learn to hunt small animals. The leopard is
a cunning, stealthy hunter, and its prey ranges from
strong-scented carrion, fish, reptiles and birds to mammals
such as rodents, hares, hyraxes, warthogs, antelopes, monkeys
Caring for the Young
A litter includes two or three cubs, whose coats appear to be
smoky gray as the rosettes are not yet clearly delineated. The
female abandons her nomadic wandering until the cubs are large
enough to accompany her. She keeps them hidden for about the
first 8 weeks, giving them meat when they are 6 or 7 weeks old
and suckling them for 3 months or longer.
Leopards have long been preyed upon by man. Their soft, dense,
beautiful fur has been used for ceremonial robes and coats.
Different parts of the leopard the tail, claws and whiskers
are popular as fetishes. These cats have a reputation as
wanton killers, but research does not support the claim. In
some areas farmers try to exterminate them, while in others
leopards are considered symbols of wisdom. Leopards do well in
captivity, and some have lived as long as 21 years.
Did you know?
- The elegant, powerfully built leopard has a long body,
relatively short legs and a broad head. Its tawny coat is
covered with dark, irregular circles called "rosettes."
- Both lions and hyenas will take away a leopard's kill if
they can. To prevent this leopards store their larger kills in
trees where they can feed on them in relative safety.