Leopard [Panthera pardus]
Leopards have black spots arranged in rosettes, contrasted on a yellow-golden background. They have single black spots on their limbs and head. Their tails are white tipped on the underside. This Cat is larger and stockier built than the Cheetah. Their head and body length is 1.6 – 2.1 m, and the tail is 0.68-1.1 m.
Females are smaller and weigh 17-60 Kg whereas males weigh 20-90 Kg. Their standing height is 700-800 mm at the shoulders. This nocturnal predator is the second largest of Africa’s large Cats.
A varied diet ensures that the Leopard is able to adjust to just about anything. Although Leopards generally feed on medium and small antelopes, they have also have been known to feed on Hyrax, Baboon, Fox, fish and reptiles. There are even accounts of Leopards living off a diet of insects and rodents in times of scarcity. Leopards are so adaptable that they have even been known to survive on the outskirts of towns and villages.
Young are born any time of the year as they are non-seasonal breeders. Leopard cubs are born after a gestation period of three and a half months and females usually give birth to two or three cubs in hidden lairs of natural holes or thick bush. The Leopard mother takes great care to hide the cubs from predators like Lion, Cheetah and Hyena, who would jump at the chance to make an easy meal of the cubs. Cubs stay with the mother for at least a year, during which time they learn the ways of the wild and how to survive on their own.
They lie up in hiding during the day and hunt at night, although in some areas day time hunting is common. Their hunting technique entails stalking and pouncing, killing larger prey with a holding bite to the throat which asphyxiates larger prey. Smaller prey species are killed by a bite to the back of the neck which usually severs the spinal cord. They pluck fur off the carcass before starting to feed on the softer parts of the body.
The remains of the catch and stomach contents will be covered with grass and sand. They are agile climbers and when there is competition from other predators the carcass will be cached out of reach in the fork of a large tree. Males defend large territories which overlap the territories of two or even three females. Females defend their territories against other females.
The Leopard tolerates variable climatic conditions and occurs in a wide range of habitats. Found from coastal areas to elevations of 2000 m above sea level in forests, deserts, semi-deserts, bushveld, mountains, woodlands and rocky areas. They are not dependant on surface water.
This master of stealth needs some form of cover such as thick bush or rocks. Though they diminished in numbers over the years, Leopards are still found in wild mountains and thick bush throughout South Africa, except for the intensively farmed central interior.
Where they are found
Leopards can be viewed in their natural habitat in a number of game reserves throughout South Africa. These include the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga and Pilanesberg National Park in the North West Province. Isolated Leopard populations can even be found in the Drakensberg Mountain Range and on many private game reserves and farms throughout South Africa.