The largest among them is the Persian leopard, and the smallest – Arabian, which is perversely the largest cat of the Arabian Peninsula. The subspecies differ significantly in size of the body and colour of the fur, which ranges from fawn to brown. Although the leopard is a very big cat, it has its enemies. It loses the clash with a lion, hyenas, or even a group of baboons.
Each cat has unique spots so you can recognize an individual without fail. They are arranged in black rosettes empty inside. Its one of a kind thus differs from those of a cheetah or a jaguar. The cheetah has black dots, and the jaguar has large rosettes with two or three dots inside.
Looking at the whole family, many cats have a black colour. Such melanistic individuals appear most often among populations that live in shady tropical forests and mountains. They are often called black panthers, although they are not a separate species. They are born alongside classically coloured cats and have their own spots, only less visible than their siblings’.
They live in temperate, tropical and cold alpine climate. They can hunt in the savannas, in the deserts, in the mountains and in the dense forests of Asia and Africa. Leopards can be active during night or day, depending on the environment in which they live. They adapt to have most solitary life possible, avoiding other predators.
Leopard likes to climb trees because it is well hidden there from unwanted interest. Thanks to its camouflage, it is very difficult to notice it. It can climb higher than the lion that threatens it in the savannas of Africa, that’s why it feels safe there. It swims well and although it is not dependent on water, it knows how to benefit from it.
Leopards use smell, sound and visual signals to communicate. They have a white underside of the tail and wave it in a sign of peace. When other animals raise an alarm after seeing it and it does not want to hunt, it shows white side of the tail to say it has peaceful intentions today. Without the element of surprise, its efforts would probably come to naught anyway. They use urine to mark the territory, and in some areas also claw marks on trees.
The cat locates its prey from the position of an arboreal observer. It uses the technique of sneaking to the prey or ambushing it. It knows where its victims like to stay and waits for them, for example near a water reservoir or a favourite tree of the chosen herbivore. It prefers to hunt in places where the density of prey is smaller, probably to avoid competition. It attacks from the ground or jumps down from a tree. The leopard creeps to its prey, lowering its body to the ground and freezing for long minutes when the hunted animal stops eating and patrols the area. When it manages to get close enough, it starts to run and knocks the victim to the ground with a powerful blow of the front paw. It can make 8 meters (26 ft) long jumps and run at 58 kmph (36 mph).
Its favourite preys are antelopes, but it also eats small mice. It has been noted that in sub-Saharan Africa, leopards hunt 92 different animals. As a feline opportunist, it often hunts farm animals.
Leopards have the habit of dragging prey on a tree to hide it from other predators and scavengers. Thanks to this, they can easily return to the prey and consume it without haste. They are able to drag up prey three times heavier than themselves on high branches. The only exception is the smallest Arabian leopard that hides its prey in caves.
The size of the leopard’s territory depends on the density of the prey. The territory of the male covers with the territories of few females, but never with the territory of another male. These animals are very territorial, they move far away from the land belonging to their mother and fight with each other for available space.
Leopards have no specific mating season and breed all year round. Females achieve sexual maturity at about three years of age and males between third and fourth.
Young kittens are moved in the mouth of a caring mother from one hideout to another to increase their chances of survival. Most cats, however, die in the first months of life. Most often this happens with litters of older females, who are unable to defend and feed their babies efficiently enough. The biggest enemy of kittens are unrelated male leopards, that want to increase their chances of transferring genes. When kittens are one year old, they are already independent. Sometimes, after being separated from their mother, they live together with their siblings for some time.
The species is vulnerable to extinction and its population is constantly decreasing. Some subspecies living in Africa and Asia perform very well, but others very poorly. Amur, Arabian, Javan and Indian leopards are critically endangered. The most endangered of them is the Amur leopard, whose population is estimated at less than 60 individuals. Many populations have been isolated from each other and have ceased to exist in many areas. In North Africa, only 3% of the population is left, so most likely the leopard will soon disappear completely from that region.
Leopards can live in the desert, in the savannah, in the tropical forest and in the mountains. All these areas, however, are constantly destroyed, transformed and taken away by man, and leopards are very secretive. The only place where they feel really bad is a crowded place. The future of leopards does not look so great because they cannot adapt to living near people.
In addition, people often kill leopards in retaliation for eating farm animals. Leaving the prey on the tree makes it easier for people to exterminate animals as they can easily poison the cat. A beautiful leopard fur is also extremely desirable on the black market. Body parts of this cat are also used for natural medicine in the local market. Religion also affects the population of this spotted predator. The Nazareth Baptist Church uses leopard skins in ceremonies. Extermination of herbivores populations also has a negative effect on these cats, as people hunt venison often without any control. In some regions, the leopard hunt is legal and very poorly controlled.
Author: Małgorzata Banaszkiewicz
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