Secretive and elusive, leopards stay hidden for much of the time in the undergrowth and forest. They hunt at night and most sightings of them are either glimpses as they move through the bush, or of them asleep high in a tree. If you are fortunate enough to see a leopard hunting or running, you truly appreciate the power and beauty of these wonderful creatures.
Whilst large in size (typically between 1.3 and 1.9m long), they are the smallest of the four big cats (lions, tigers and jaguars are all larger). Leopards can run at speeds of up to 36mph, are strong swimmers and are also able to jump long distances.
Territories and lifestyle.
Leopards are solitary animals with large home ranges. Whilst the range of male and female leopards may overlap, it is unusual for there to be overlap in the home range of two male or two female leopards. Male leopards have a home range of between 12 and 30 square miles, whilst the home range for females it is much smaller, typically around 6 square miles. When a female is ready to mate she will give off a scent, rubbing it onto trees so that nearby males can tell that she is ready to mate. A mother will take care of her cubs for around two years, after which point they will be capable of hunting on their own, and will go off and find their own territory.
Leopards spend much of their time up in trees. They use trees to rest in, to spot from when they are ready to start hunting and as a larder, somewhere to haul their prey up into, safely away from scavenger species such as hyenas. As they spend most of their time alone, competition for food typically comes from other species rather than other leopards.
Where can leopards be found?
Leopards can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and North east Africa. Leopards are considered a near threatened species, meaning that whilst they are not currently under threat from extinction, this could be the case in the near future. The justification behind this status is a fear of loss of habitat, something that has been gradually happening for many years. In the past leopards could be found all across eastern and southern Asia, through to Africa, rather than just the pockets in which they are found now. Their ability to adapt has however helped them to survive better than other species of wild cats around Africa.
As leopards are so adaptable, they can be found in a large number of environments, however they are typically found in savannah grasslands and rainforests, both of which have an abundance of trees which they can use to rest on during the day, and stalk their prey from during the night.
What do leopards eat?
Leopards are not fussy eaters. They typically go hunting at night for animals such as antelope and deer, but also eat primates such as monkeys. If they cannot find these larger animals, leopards have been known to eat anything from dung beetles through to rodents, fish and birds. Cubs start by learning how to hunt these small animals, preparing them for hunting bigger, more difficult prey as they age and get bigger.
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