• Kerilouise Cherry

Interesting Facts About Leopards

Updated: Jun 2


Leopard
Leopard

Panthera pardus

Lifespan : 10 – 15 years

Weight : 30 – 90 Kgs

Height : 60 – 80 cms

Gestation : 100 days

Offspring : 2 -3 cubs

Diet : Carnivore


The Leopard is probably one of the most requested of the cats, it is also one of the most elusive due to its amazing ability to camouflage itself, whether it's high in a tree, in a rock cavity or in the long grass, the expression is “ A Leopard sees you before it is seen “ gives you an indication of how much they don’t want to be found!


Its latin name derives from latin Greek Pan = all. Ther = prey. Panthera meaning predator of all prey. The species name is from the Latin meaning “ spotted” therefore the English name literally means spotted Lion.


When driving in the Kruger we often get asked “ where will we find a Leopard ? “ The Kruger park is 19,485 kilometres squared so that’s a huge area to search for an animal that has a territory of 40 kilometres squared although when collared Leopards have been tracked, the data shows that they generally use only 12 kilometres squared.


There isn’t any area in the park where you won’t find a leopard as the habitat is so diverse and potentially anywhere in the park is habitat for a Leopard.


The leopard is an excellent ambush predator so, you have to think like a cat! Unlike lions who are dependent on larger prey like buffalo due to the fact that they are normally found in prides, Leopards on the other hand are solitary cats and therefore do not need to eat as much as Lions.


A Leopard per year will eat roughly 400kgs of food which equates to eating every third day. They have a variety of food they can eat as they don’t have to eat antelopes all the time although an impala will feed them well for a few days. Included in their diet can be small rodents, hares, mongoose, monkeys, birds and even small crocodiles.


Leopards do however generally tend to prefer riverine areas with dry riverbeds. This is due to the fact they have the vantage point of observing their prey from trees that line these areas. Drainage holes at the side of the roads are also good for hiding in or maybe grabbing a warthog that has made it its den as they also utilise these drainage holes.


The leopard needs to be within 5 – 10 metres away from its prey to have any chance of success as their success rate is roughly 40% of all attempted kills. Stalking in the long grass is a huge advantage as it can be well hidden, you have to remember even if its prey doesn’t spot the leopard stalking, birds, squirrels and monkeys will all alert the prey to a potential threat hence, the low success rate of kills.


Using its tail to balance, the leopard will lay as flat as it can and the pounce at speed where if successful it will use its fore claws to grab the prey by the throat and death is nearly instant, if not the Leopard will suffocate its prey using the slits at the side of his nose (nares) to enable it to breath whilst holding onto its prey until it is dead.

Once the kill is dead the Leopard will generally lay with the prey as it has used a lot of energy, although sometimes they do start taking a few bites! As with all cats the Leopard has a very rough tongue and this enables them to lick fur or feathers off the prey. As Leopards are solitary they need to stash their kill away from other predators like Hyenas, Lions and also other Leopards, they do this by grabbing their kill by the throat and hoisting it up into the fork of a tree, generally a Marula tree as the bark is softer and more comfortable for them to lie on.

Leopard with a Impala Kill at a waterhole in the Kruger Park
Leopard with Impala Kill

An impala will last roughly 2-3 days and the Leopard will stay around the area until its had its fill, birds like Tawny eagles will scavenge the remnants along with baboons.


Most kills are made at night, this is due to the light sensitive rods and reflective tapetum lucidum found at the back of the retina so not really night vision but much better vision at night than their prey and unlike their prey they have binocular vision as do humans, the prey species have peripheral vision owing to the fact that they are mostly grazing and need to be able to see what’s sneaking up on them.


Leopards do hunt in the daytime when hungry, it’s thought that human encroachment has pushed them to be more nocturnal hunters than diurnal hunters.


A leopard is short and stocky giving it the ability to haul its prey into the trees and thus fending off competition from other predators.


Leopard’s ability to be unseen is due to the fact that they have amazing colourisation that allows them to be very well camouflaged. Black solid spots will break the shape of its body when hiding in the grass or in a tree, it has a beautiful orange pelt and as they are active mainly after sunset and as with most mammals except primates, see in black and white making it more difficult to see them.


The tip of the tail is white, this is a follow me sign for the cubs to locate the mother when walking in the long grass, a leopard will curl its tail showing the white to prey species as an indication that it is just passing by and that they are not on today’s menu!


Patrolling at night both the male and the female will mark their territory by spraying urine, an unusual smell that smells very sweet like popcorn! The purpose of marking their territories is to avoid confrontation with other Leopards and is full of olfactory messages.


Along with scent marking Leopards will call to announce their presence. An unmistakable rasping sound, if you imagine someone slowly sawing through wood this is the closest comparison to a Leopards call.


Leopards, being solitary animals, will at some point have to get together to find a mate! The male Leopard will reach sexual maturity somewhere between the age of two and a half to four years of age whereas the females reach sexual maturity from the age of two and a half to three years of age.


A female will come into oestrus every 46 days and this generally lasts a week where hopefully she will attract a male.


The females basically flirt with the male to indicate they are ready to be mated, this will include rolling around in front of him and basically smacking him in the face with her tail! When she is ready she will lie in front of him with her tail raised whilst emitting a low growl.


During mating the female will be made submissive by the male holding her down with his front paws and then to make sure she stays submissive he will bite her on her neck. This will continue for roughly 4 days with the pair mating 100 times per day, during this time they will share food.

Two Leopards sitting on a hill in the Kruger Park
Leopard Mating Pair

After 100 days the female can give birth to 1-3 cubs that are completely dependent on their mother. They are born with their eyes closed and only start to open between four and nine days and unable to feed themselves relying on their mother’s milk.

After four months the cubs will start taking small chunks of meat and will then start to hunt alongside their mother, practising their hunting skills at eight months. During this time the cubs are very vulnerable to danger from other predators so the mother will move them from place to place to avoid detection, generally in small rocky outcrops. The mortality rate for newborn cubs killed by male leopards is 50%, once the cubs have been killed (infanticide) the female will come into oestrus and mate with the male.


After twelve to eighteen months the mother will leave her cubs to find a mate, this is a difficult time for the cubs as they are unaware their mother isn’t coming back so they will return to the areas where they were raised in the hope that she returns, the mortality rate is also high at this point owing to starvation. Once the cubs realise their mother isn’t returning they will stay with each other for two to three months where after they gain their independence.


The male cubs will move away from their birthplace, this will avoid inbreeding. Female cubs on the other hand tend to stay within their mothers territory, known as “philopatry” this will benefit the cub as mothers have been known to share kills with their daughters thus avoiding the chances of starvation.


Leopards play an important role in the ecosystem by managing the population of small predators and keeping a healthy balance of prey species down and they are a good indication of a healthy ecosystem as they have large territories.


Leopard populations are threatened owing to habitat loss from agriculture and also human encroachment.Within the Kruger there is an estimated population of one thousand plus Leopards and is therefore listed as vulnerable on the IUCN (international union for conservation of nature ) with their numbers in decline even though they are the most populous of the cats. Records suggest that occur in only 25% of its historical global range.

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