Leopard [Panthera pardus]
Leopards are very cunning felines that are coated in a golden yellow coat with black (rosettes) covering the animal’s body. The rosettes only cover the body, while the legs and head are covered in solid black spots. The tail of the leopard tipped white on the underside. The Leopard is a much stockier in build than the cheetah, with males weighing anywhere from 20 – 90 kg and with a body length of up to 2.1 m. Females are physically smaller than the males both in length and weight. The Leopard is the Second largest cat in Africa.
The Leopard has a very varied diet. This allows the leopard to adjust to almost any environment and its food sources. The general diet for a leopard usually includes small and medium sized antelope. The leopard has also been seen hunting and feeding on baboons, foxes, fish, reptiles and hyrax. There have been very rare occasions where leopards have been seen feeding on insects and rodents when food is extremely scarce. The adaptability of leopards has improved so much that they have been known to survive on town outskirts, feeding on what they can find within.
Leopards are non-seasonal breeders which means their young can be born at anytime during the year. There is a gestation period of 3.5 months where after a maximum of 3 cubs are born. The Leopard will give birth in hidden lairs to protect its young from scavengers and predators. Leopards are very protective of their young and will to any lengths to protect their cubs. Lions, hyenas and cheetah all consider leopards cubs an easy meal and the better the cubs are hidden, the safer they are.
Leopards are nocturnal hunters, which means that it spends the day laying low and hiding and waiting for nightfall. These nocturnal hunters use the element of surprise to catch their pray. They will stick to the shadows and long grass to stay concealed and get close to their prey. When close enough, the leopard will pounce larger prey to weigh them down and inflict damage and they will run down smaller prey when close enough. Smaller prey are usually killed by a bite to the back of the neck severing the spinal cord, which causes paralysis. Larger prey are bitten in the throat, suffocating and bleeding out. When a leopard’s kill is threatened, it will carry the carcass up a tree and lay it in the split of a tree, safe and out of reach from scavengers like hyenas.
Just like its ability to adapt to the availability of food, the leopard can actually adapt to a variety of different environments and habitats. They can be found in elevations 2000m above sea level to coastal regions. They live in forests, deserts, mountains, bushveld, rocky terrain and tall grasslands. Any place that provides good cover is perfect for the leopard. Tho the leopard is a rare sight, you have a good chance of spotting it during an afternoon while on a Kruger Park Safari.