Top 10 Amazing Facts about Leopards
10. Leopards Live in Some of the World’s Most Exotic Locations
Leopards live in the widest range of habitats of all big cats. Leopards can live in many different habitats as long as they can provide food and shelter. A leopard might be found in forests, mountains, grass plains, deserts and rainforests. A breed of leopard known as the snow leopard is even found in the Himalayan Mountains, the highest mountains in the world! Snow leopards habitat cover 2 million square kilometers, approximately the size of Mexico. Snow leopards like the cliffs and ravines provided by the high mountain ranges, but they aren’t known for staying in one place, especially if food is scarce. The Snow Leopard Trust once tracked a snow leopard across 27 miles of open desert in only one night! Leopards are also found in the wild in other parts of Asia from the Arabian Peninsula all the way to eastern Russia, Korea, China, India and even Malaysia.
There are species and subspecies of leopard found in the wild in most of Africa. There are nine subspecies of leopard in Africa native to 35 countries. Leopards in Africa seem to prefer rocky landscapes with dense bush or forests along major rivers. They can handle both warm and cold climates. Like Asian leopards, they are highly adaptable as long as they can find food and shelter. African leopards might be found in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe as well as 30 other countries on all sides of the continent.
9. A Leopard’s Coat Can Vary Depending on Location
The color of a leopard’s fur coat often depends on the habitat in which they live. The pattern and color of each leopards coat offers them both protection and assistance in hunting. Some leopards may be black, tawny, or even light yellow. Arabian leopards are often deep golden or tawny colored to match their desert environment, while a snow leopard might smoky gray with a white belly, not unlike his snowy mountainous habitat. One leopard in particular is black and looks almost as if it is one solid color- but it does have spots. This black leopard is often called a ‘black panther,’but it is still in the leopard family. A lot of debate has been had regarding the leopard’s infamous spots. The leopard’s spots, or rosettes, are probably the evolutionary result of the amount of time leopards spend in trees. However, the types of spots may vary greatly across the species. For example, an East African leopard has circular spots but a South African leopard will have square spots!
One African leopard in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve has even been discovered to be pink! While most African leopards are often yellow with black spots, this male leopard’s coat is the color of a strawberry. It is suspected that this leopard has erythrism, which is a genetic condition that may cause an overproduction of red pigments in an animal’s fur or the under production of darker pigments – but scientists aren’t sure why this happens. A condition that is very unusual in carnivores, experts cannot think of another example of a strawberry colored leopard! Despite his color, it seems that the leopard is healthy and is still able to hunt successfully.
8. Leopards Are Solitary Animals
Leopards live entirely on their own and they often go out of their way to avoid one another when they can. Because leopards can hunt and kill prey up to three times their size, they do not need to live in groups to be able to feed themselves regularly. They can even drag their food up a tree to keep to themselves! Leopards usually have large territories that they control. Males have larger territories than females, and leopards may mark the boundaries of their territory with urine or claw marks on trees. Intrusion in a leopard’s territory is usually only tolerated if they are mating. Leopards rarely stay in one place for very long, rarely staying in one area of their home territory for more than a few days at a time. Because of the boundary markings, they usually know when another leopard is close so that they can avoid it. Unexpected encounters between two leopards can lead to fighting.
A female leopard nurturing her cubs is one of the only exceptions to this rule. A female will abandon her nomadic tendencies until her cubs are mature enough to roam with her. The cubs are allowed to live with their mother for two years. Female leopards are very nurturing and their maternal instincts are very strong. When one leopard cub named Legadema made her first kill, a baboon, she discovered that her prey had a baby! Legadema ignored her pretty and carried the baby baboon up a tree where she cared for the baby baboon and protected her from predators.
7. Leopards Will Eat Anything They Can Find – Even If It’s Twice as Large as They Are!
Leopards are carnivorous animals and will eat any available protein source. Leopards may feast on gazelle or impala, but they may also track and hunt monkeys or rodents. Because of their wide and often treacherous environments, they have to be adaptable to eating anything available to them. The most important food for a snow leopard is sheep and goats. For the Arabian leopard living in the desert, gazelle, hares, birds and lizards are their most important food groups. Arabian leopards do not have the luxury of trees and so much of their prey is stored in caves. An African leopard has a huge variety of food that it can hunt, at least 92 species of prey, in fact. Known prey of an African leopard includes dung beetles all the way up to elands, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. There have even been a few reported instances of a leopard killing a young giraffe and carrying it up a tree to save for later.
Leopards are mostly nocturnal hunters. There are stories throughout the world telling of the leopard’s stealthy ability to enter a village and catch a sleeping dog without being caught. Leopards have a variety of physical features that allow them to hunt without the aid of a pack. Their vision and hearing make leopards the ultimate hunters. However, when food is scarce, leopards may sometimes turn to the area’s livestock. This puts them under threat from local farmers, who have been noted to hunt leopards in retribution for killing their farm animals.
6. Leopards Communicate with Other Leopards
Leopards communicate with each other through a variety of vocal noises which are similar to other large cats. However, leopards have individual and distinct calls, possibly so that they might recognize each other from a distance to prevent contact. Leopards might roar, hiss, growl, moan, yowl or even produce a rasping cough. Just like your cat at home, leopards even purr when they are pleased! Purring usually happens between a mother and her cubs when the cubs or feeding. A leopard’s roar is said to sound like a person sawing through a difficult piece of wood and is usually used to show that they are alarmed or to prevent another leopard from coming any further into their territory. Leopards may use their raspy cough to let other leopards know they are in the area.
Unlike other leopards, the snow leopard cannot roar because of the physiology of their throat. Scientists have recently discovered that it is not simply the hyoid bone that allows big cats to roar but a variety of other features. Even though the snow leopard has the partial ossification of the hyoid bone in its throat, it is missing its larynx. Instead, the snow leopard relies on chuffing, which is a non-aggressive puffing sound.
Thankfully, leopards are said to have excellent hearing so that they might recognize the many and distinct calls of another leopard. It is said that leopards can hear five times more sounds than humans – including squeaks made by mice!
5. Leopards Are Much Larger than Your Favorite Feline
A leopard’s size can vary depending on what species it is or what climate it lives in. An Arabian leopard is the largest and most powerful of the Arabian cats, but weighing only 30 kilograms, it is the smallest of the leopard subspecies. The African leopard, which has access to much bigger game, may grow to be a maximum weight of 91 kilograms, or 201 pounds. Similarly, Indian leopards may grow to be between 50 and 77 kilograms. Snow leopards are stocky, being short but quite heavy cats. This body type helps them survive the freezing temperatures that come with their mountainous and snow environment. Snow leopards also have huge nostrils which make it easier for them to breathe thin air high in the mountains.
In Sri Lanka, the leopard population roams unopposed by the other big cats. While they may elusive and hard to track in other areas of the world, leopards may be found wandering the roads of Sri Lanka’s national parks. Without any real competition from other cats, Sri Lanka’s leopards have grown to be enormous. Sri Lanka is home to Ivan, the world’s biggest leopard who weights nearly 100 kilograms. Ivan, short for One Eye, suffers from scarring over her right eye and is world famous. Ivan lives in Yala West National Park. Only a six hour drive from Colombo, the largest city in Sri Lanka, Yala is home to around 30 leopards – a surprising amount for such a solitary animal! In some areas of the park, the density is even suggested to be one cat for every square kilometer of the park.
4. Leopards Live Half as Long in the Wild as They Do in Captivity
Leopards can live to be 21 years old in captivity; however, life in the wild can be very difficult. Snow leopards in particular grow very quickly and at 22 months old become independent of their mothers, ready to fend for themselves against the dangers in the wild. A short life span in the wild can be the result of many different factors including other predators, destruction of habitats and human encounters.
Leopards are constantly under threat both from poachers and habitat persecution. When a leopard’s habitat suffers and it cannot find food, it may resort to entering a more densely populated area and trying for livestock. The African leopard in particular suffers from retribution from humans for both the real and perceived loss of livestock and other farm animals.
Poaching is another serious threat to leopards all over the world. In India alone, an average of at least four leopards have been poached every week for the last 10 years. Governments have never come to an agreement regarding what to do about poaching. Leopards have always been considered a luxury item, their skins used to create the robes of the world’s monarchs throughout history. However, rising affluence in Asia has increased in a demand of these animals skins in places like China. It is difficult to trace the exact number of leopards in the world because of their elusive and solitary nature, however, estimates leave them in a category as “near threatened” and notes that they are becoming increasingly rare outside of protected areas.
3. Leopards Pack Power into a Small Body
Despite being the smallest of big cats, Leopards are impressively strong – the strongest of the big cats. They can take prey as large as antelopes and a male can drag pretty three times its own weight. Leopards are also strong swimmers. They run as fast at 36 miles per hour and leap almost 20 feet in a single bound. Male leopards are much larger (about 50%) than their female counterparts but the females are equally as agile.
Leopards have muscular necks and stocky legs where are perfect for speed- not unlike human sprinters! It is not just their speed that makes a leopard strong. The sheer force behind their body is enough to take down an animal 12 times its weight, as one scientist observed. Their long tails help them to keep their balance. Despite all this, leopards are still seriously stealthy predators, they creep up to their kill quickly and quietly and avoid drawing any attention from their own predators- lions, tigers and hyenas.
2. Mating Is the Only Reasons Leopards Spend Time Together
Female leopards are ready to begin bearing cubs around the age of two or three years old. This is also the only time that they meet other leopards – as leopards prefer to remain living and hunting alone unless they are mating. Once suitable matches are found, mating lasts around five days. Mating season for the snow leopard is often between January and March, during which time a male and female snow leopard will travel together for a few days and mate. The gestation period for most leopards is sometime around 3 months or 90 -112 days. A litter usually numbers two to three cubs though sometimes a female may give birth to up to six cubs at a time. Mating season for the rest of the leopard subspecies is usually early in the year with cubs being born around April, however, it can take place anytime of the year.
Because of the short gestation period, leopard cubs are born very weak and with their eyes closed so that they cannot stray from their mother’s side. The mother leopard is very careful to keep her cubs carefully hidden, hiding them every few days so that they are not found by potential predators. Leopards aren’t born with their mother’s spots, their spots come as the cub grows up. The cubs live off of their mother’s milk for the first three months of their life before beginning to share their mother’s food. They continue to live with their mother for around two years as she teaches them to hunt and how to survive. These two years are the only circumstance in which leopards will share their territory with other leopards. Once the cubs reach two years of age, they are sent away to begin their solitary existence in a new territory without their mothers protection.
1. Leopards are Amazing Climbers
Leopards can climb as high as 50 feet up a tree while holding its latest kill in its mouth. Leopards bring their food up trees so that other animals like lions and hyenas cannot get it. One leopard in a South African game reserve was once spotted taking his impala up a tree when two hyenas came out of nowhere and latched on the dangling feet of the leopard’s dinner. The leopard persevered and the hyenas fell to the ground with only a small part of the leopard’s dinner leaving the leopard to climb higher in the tree to enjoy his impala in peace. Another leopard was even spotted carrying a small giraffe up a tree! Leopards are not only famous for the way they climb up trees – they are even more famous for the way they climb down again. Leopards are able descend down a tree head first. For an animal that can climb as high as 50 feet – this is a true feat!
It is in tree climbing that the true strength of the leopard is revealed. Leopards have been spotted carrying large game, like buffalo calves and giraffes, up trees. Some of their kills weigh twice as much as they do! Try this on for size: carrying a giraffe up a tree for a leopard is like a human carrying the body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger (113 kg) up a tree – in your teeth!
Climbing isn’t just great for hiding food – it can also save a leopard’s life. Climbing up trees helps them to escape from predators like lions who are unable to climb as quickly, nimbly or as high as leopards because of their body shape.
Leopards are some of the most enigmatic and awe inspiring animals in the world. They are rarely seen and hard to track because they are solitary animals who roam endlessly through their own territory. They are some of the most powerful and beautiful cats in the world, but even the most powerful and agile animals have predators. Leopards may be killed by lions and tigers, and even hyenas, despite their small size, can bring a leopard down with enough surprise and a big enough pack. The most dangerous threat to the leopard population is humans. Between poaching, retribution killings and the destruction of their natural habitat, humans have killed over 2,000 leopards in the wild in India in the last 10 years alone. Thankfully, leopards are some of the most adaptable creatures in the wild. They will eat anything from big game to insects – some even swim in the rivers and are known to eat fish and crab. They can climb trees to hide from predators and keep their food safe. To further help their cause, the conservation of leopards is high priority of both local governments as well as organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, who seek to protect both leopards and their natural habitats.