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The Alluring Leopard…

Part of the big cat family, leopards are closely related to lions, tigers and jaguars and are both beautiful and unique. Today, we delve into what makes these creatures so special and why they should be on your safari “must-see” list…

Physical Characteristics

There is something truly mesmerising about seeing a leopard on the prowl for the first time– and every time after that! Perhaps it’s their coat– which provides a deadly camouflage, their incredible strength or hypnotic eyes.

Whatever it is, leopards are one of the most enthralling animals in the world. Well known for their strength, the leopard is the strongest big cat. With the ability to climb trees and haul their prey with them, leopards are stronger than their heftier counterparts and are in fact the smallest member of the big cat family.

Spots

What make leopards most distinctive however, are their spots. Unlike the stripes of a tiger or the spots of a cheetah, leopards have rosette shaped spots. They are incredibly similar to jaguars, with one small difference– jaguars have a small spot within the rosettes of their fur! So keep those eyes peeled…

Behaviour & Habitat

Open plains, roaming wetlands, deserts and chilling mountainous areas. Found in a diverse array of areas, leopards are incredibly adaptable. Found in several countries including Africa, India, China and Russia, they are the most widely distributed big cat species.

They are also a solitary species– leopards will have their own territory that overlaps with others. After giving birth, a mother will abandon her nomadic ways to raise her young. In the wild, they will generally live between 12 and 17 years.

Leopards are both stealthy hunters and speedy to strike, a perfect but very dangerous combination. Despite it being widely thought that cats dislike water, leopards are strong swimmers and actually enjoy swimming. They have more unlikely talents– leopards can jump astonishingly well. They are able to run up to 60 km/hour, jump to a height of 3m and as far as 6m.

Diet

Leopards are carnivores and are not fussy eaters. They usually feed on creatures smaller or less powerful than them, including deer, baboons, rodents and cubs. Interestingly, leopards do not drink too much water– they get the majority of their water from meat.

Threats

A vulnerable species, leopards face several threats, primarily a result of human behaviour. Several types also are endangered or critically endangered. Suffering from a loss of natural habitat and habitat fragmentation, leopards have seen their range reduce by 31% in the past twenty years. Furthermore, a reduction in prey and human-wildlife conflict means leopard numbers are in decline. Unfortunately, there is also a market for leopard skin and bones, as well as for live animals.

Unfortunately when in close contact with humans and towns, they also become a threat to livestock. Therefore, people and our ever-expanding cities pose more than one danger.

One of the most special and enthralling animals, the leopard is a truly breathtaking animal and one of our favourites to look out for on safari.

References: How Stuff Works, AWF, National Geographic, Live Science, Just Fun Facts, Animalia
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