Leopard (Panthera pardus
aka African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus
Leopards are powerfully built, medium-sized "Big Cats", up to 6'9" (2.1m) long, standing 32" (80cm) at the shoulder and weighing up to 200lbs (90kg). They range from off-white to an orange-russet colour, adapting to their habitat. They have black spots on their legs, sides and head. There are rosettes and broken circles of irregular black spots over the rest of their bodies.
Their tail is up to 43" (1.1 metres) and is half the total length of the Leopard's body. Rosette spots are above the white tip of the tail.
Its ears are rounded, with white tips.
Leopards, like many large felines, can withdraw their claws under folds in the skin of their paws, ensuring they are undamaged when walking on ground - on trees, however, their claws assist in moving great weights, vertically.
Their hearing is five times more acute than a human's. Their ability to see in near darkness (their eyes have a reflective membrane ['tapetum lucidum'], maximizing the amount of light captured by the eye), along with long, sensitive whiskers guiding them, make them formidable nocturnal hunters.
A Leopard's jaws are very powerful. Four huge canines enable the Leopard to firmly grip its prey and snap its neck with a powerful bite. Razor-sharp carnassial teeth, behind the canines, are ideal for slicing through meat when eating. A Leopard eats an average of 7.5lbs (3.5kg) of food per day, often returning to a previous kill, to eat what it couldn't previously finish.
Not to be confused with the much smaller Cheetah
, which has a black 'tear-line' on its face. Resident
Leopards live all over Kenya, from the coastal plains to the high mountains and from the semi-desert to rain forests. Longevity
Leopards don't have a particular breeding season and females come into season every couple of months. A litter of 2-3 cubs, each weighing around 1lb (500gm), that are unsighted, are born after around 100 days gestation.
The cubs are vulnerable from other predators, so the mother moves them every few days, one at a time, in her mouth, to avoid scent build-up. She chooses rocky areas, caves, hollow tree trunks or dense undergrowth for her den, her cubs coats blending with the surroundings.
Within 2 weeks of birth, the cubs are sighted (with blue eyes!) and can walk.
After 5-6 weeks, the cubs start to explore, practise hunting on anything that moves and start to climb trees.
By the time the cubs are 3 months old, Mum is weaning them and bringing meat back to the den. She leaves her cubs for up to 36 hours, while hunting for food. It is during this time that the cubs are most vulnerable from Hyenas
and the other big cats. They would kill the cubs, to ensure a lack of competition in the food-chain. The cubs, having learned to climb, have a slim advantage during their mother's absence. If hunting boundaries change, male Leopards are also a threat and will kill the cubs of rival males, in order to bring the mother back into fertility.
At approximately 18 months old, the cubs become independent of their mother and hunt for their own food. They also establish their own territory, by scent-marking and vocalisations. They will also fight, to defend their hunting grounds.
By the time they are 2 years old, they are ready to mate and females produce a scent (pheromones) in their urine, signifying their fertility.
Despite being solitary animals, a male & female will stay together for several days, mating up to 100 times a day. Only the female takes any part in raising the young.
Leopards live for up to 21 years in captivity. Only between 10 - 15 years in the wild, depending on the habitat and the food supply available. Predators
The Leopard's biggest predator is the Lion
, if they can get close enough. Aside from which, male Leopards will kill Leopard cubs, if they are not his own, in order to bring the female back into season.
Cubs are also vulnerable from Hyena
, Snakes and Birds of Prey. I must also mention human / animal conflict, by way of habitat loss and hunting, in particular for their fur and Leopards are highly sought-after by trophy hunters, especially being one of the Big Five.
Rarely, nowadays, are Leopard hunted for their meat by locals, there having been training programs, teaching about the benefits of tourism.
Leopards are classified as "Near Threatened" by IUCN. Behaviour
Leopards are solitary animals, hunting during nocturnal hours. Living in forests and woodlands, they rarely come out into open ground and when they do so, mostly remain hidden. Using stealth, they often ambush their prey from trees or on the ground, hiding in rocks or dense vegetation. The Dik Dik
is a favourite food, simply because they share the same environment.
Leopards, with their short, strong legs & sharp claws climb into trees to protect their prey from other predators, particularly Hyena. The Leopard weighs > 200lbs (90kg) and a fully-grown Impala Antelope
weighs > 110lbs (50kg), over half the body weight of the Leopard. Dead Weight, hauled vertically, using its claws. Unlike the Cheetah, Leopard will return to a meal time and again, until it is finished.
Leopards mark a territory, using scent markings and harsh-sounding calls and 'barks'. A Leopard's territory depends on the amount of prey within the area. Male Leopard's territories are generally larger than female's. However, a female Leopard's territory often overlaps that of it's mother's and often the territory of a male (or males). Diet
Unlike Lions, Leopards only hunt to eat and don't kill either to suppress other predators, or to train their young. It normally aims for medium-sized animals like Dik Dik
, Thomson's Gazelles
. If unavailable, it will eat smaller prey; Large Birds, Rodents, Snakes and I have once seen one attempt to catch a Cape Hare
. Leopards kill their prey with a bite to the neck, breaking it, unlike the other Big Cats, that suffocate their prey.
Leopards can last for up to 10 days without water, gaining most of their moisture from their food. Other Leopard Facts
Leopards are the only Big Cat to mate for pleasure.
Leopards can jump forwards 20 feet (6 metres) and upwards 10 feet (3 metres). A testament to their ambushing skills. Photographs
Images taken in Kenya's Masai Mara and Olare Orok Conservancy.