When it comes to animal watching, nothing can be quite as majestic as being able to see big cats roam the earth in the wild. The big cats – consisting of the four largest members of the Panthera genus – refer to tigers, African lions, jaguars and leopards.
Of the four big cats, leopards are known to be the smallest in size, but what they lack in size, they make up for in shrewd and strength. Leopards can be found in Africa and are adaptable to different habitats including rainforests, deserts, the African savannahs and deep forests.
What makes the leopard stand out amongst its counterparts? Here are 5 reasons to be in awe of the leopard!
Elusive and Secretive
When going on a leopard safari, be sure to pack binoculars and stay focused at all times. This is because the leopards are skilled at stealth and hiding in plain sight, making them extremely difficult to spot in the wild. Their long and slender body helps them move gracefully and quietly through grass or bush, enabling the leopard to get extremely close to its prey undetected. The Leopards’ coat helps keep them camouflaged and can present darker or paler markings depending on their habitat. The dark coats of black leopards, or panthers, make great camouflage for these forest dwelling cats.
Leopards are accomplished hunters as their ability to stalk prey is second to none. They hunt after dark and depend on their sharp sight and acute hearing. What makes the leopard such a skilled hunter is its ability to climb trees. Leopards often haul their kill up the trees to keep them safe from scavengers. Its relative ease on trees, along with its spotted coat that allows it to blend in with its surroundings, allow the leopard to hunt and effectively stalk prey from trees.
Like most cats, leopards are solitary and territorial. They can only be seen spending time with others during mating season or when a mother raises its young cubs. At other times, leopards keep their distances, with the cats being observed to keep at least 1 kilometer apart at Kruger National Park. A male’s territory is usually larger than that of females and generally overlaps with several females. This is thought to be a strategy to increase access to female leopards during mating season. Leopards don’t live long in one area, opting to move their home ranges every two to three days.
Due to their adaptability, leopards have cultivated a taste for a wide range of prey. They hunt and kill large animals including elands, antelopes, and gazelles, as well as smaller preys like baboons, porcupines, and hares (large rabbits). The leopard’s renowned strength allows it to kill prey 10 times its weight. Small animals like mice and small birds are swatted to death with a single leopard’s paw strike. Their ability to swim also allows them to feed on fishes and crabs.
Strong Maternal Bonds
Though preferring to live a solitary life, female leopards create strong maternal bonds with their young cubs. Female leopards typically give birth to a litter of two to three cubs, which live with their mother for the first two years of their life before setting out alone. The first two months of a cub’s life are the most vulnerable, determining the mother to hide her young in dense bush and hollow tree trunks.
An extraordinary moment of a leopard’s maternal instinct was documented in the “Eye of The Leopard” in 2006. In the documentary, a young leopard had killed a baboon for food. The baboon’s young baby then emerged clinging onto its mother. Seeing this, the leopard carried the baby up the tree and cared for it until it passed due to a lack of sustenance from its mother.
Looking to catch a glimpse of the elusive leopards? Witness them roaming the mountains on a mountain safari!