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Leopard Facts | Southern Africa Wildlife Guide

Physical Characteristics

  • The leopard is the largest spotted cat.
  • A hefty build, pugmark spots and broad, white-tipped tail differentiates it from the lither cheetah.

 

Habitat

Leopards live in all but the most arid African habitats. They are one of the most far-reaching cats, found even in suburban areas. They enjoy resting on boulders, kopjes and tall trees along the riverside. They are able to make their homes anywhere there is an available food supply and a limited amount of external interference. Though leopards are adaptable, they are facing a severe drop in population as fur hunting and human encroachment create dire conflicts.

Leopards are solitary animals. They inhabit a territory spanning anywhere from one to 12 square miles, depending on the access to food. Territories for males and females frequently overlap, but they guard their regions heavily against members of the same sex. Female territories tend to be smaller, and several may be encompassed within one male territory. Males often fight over their space and will mark trees and logs throughout their area by clawing bark and spraying urine.

Behavior

A leopard’s most common call is a guttural, rough cough, almost like that of a sawing wood. This is repeated 10 to 15 times. Males have distinctly deeper vocals than females. This call serves to advertise presence and to discourage other leopards from trespassing into defended territory, thereby avoiding destructive territorial fights.

Greetings are often accompanied by a short growl. The beginning of an aggressive charge may be heralded by two or three short coughs, and anyone foolish enough to corner a leopard will never forget the beast rearing up on its hind legs and uttering a blood-curdling scream.
Leopards have few natural enemies, and their skill in tree climbing assures their protection from all but the most aggressive lions. Anyone who has scanned the branches and canopy of a tree for a leopard knows just how well they blend into the blotched light and shade. Even the certain knowledge that a leopard is in a particular tree is no guarantee that it will be discovered. The switch of a hanging tail is sometimes a giveaway.

Breeding

Breeding can occur at any time of year. Leopards, like all other cats except lions, are solitary breeders. The only long-term social bond is between a leopardess and her cubs. Females come into heat for about one week every 20 to 50 days. They advertise their receptiveness with the “sawing” call, attracting the nearest territory-holding male. A pair will then consort during the week of heat, where mating frequently occurs. Males court, consort and mate, but when the honeymoon ends they leave and take no part in cub rearing.

The gestation period lasts about 100 days. Between one and six (average three) young are dropped in solitary retreats such as rock crevices and caves. At birth, the cubs are blind and do not emerge from their birthplace to follow the female until they are six to eight weeks old. Young are weaned after three months and become independent after two years.

Feeding Habits

Most small to medium herbivores, large birds, rodents and primates, as well as smaller carnivores such as servals and jackals, are fair game to leopards. They primarily use stealth and surprise to capture their prey, and like cheetahs and lions, they are stalkers. But tree climbing habits adds a third dimension to their hunt. A common tactic used by leopards is to leap out of trees upon their prey; however, if the prey is not secured after a rush of a few yards, it will invariably get away. Long chases are usually avoided.
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