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African Leopards are agile climbers and spend quite some time on trees (Image from Pixabay)

Feeding, breeding and Killing habits of Leopards (African Leopard)

The African leopard is one of the fascinating cats in the world. Globally, there are at least nine subspecies, but this article focuses on the habits of leopards in Africa. 

Image by Barbara Fraatz from Pixabay

Most leopards are light-colored with rosette (resemble a rose) spots. Black leopards (also called black panthers) have rosettes too, but they are not easily visible. They are the smallest members of the big cat category that includes tigers, lions, cheetahs, cougar, and jaguars. The term ‘big cats’ is sometimes used to define only animals of the Panthera species.

Scientific name:Panthera pardus
Weight: 40-90kg (Male); 30-60 kg (Female)
Height: around 60 cm
Length: 170-300 cm  
Gestation period: 90-105 days
Life expectancy: 12-17 years in the wild, but can live up to 24 years in captivity
IUCN Status: Vulnerable (2020)

General habits of leopards

Some of the general habits of leopards include:

  • The leopard is mainly a nocturnal animal. Nevertheless, it can be spotted basking in the sun during the daytime.
  • They are solitary cats. When two or more leopards are spotted together, they are either mating or raising the young. They could also be fighting for territory.
  • Although they are the most common and widespread of cats, they are also the most elusive. Because they are shy and secretive.
  • It is an agile climber and would often take its prey to trees. This habit keeps its kill safely from other carnivores in the wilderness, such as hyenas and lions. Pound for pound, leopards are the strongest big cats. They can carry prey heavier than themselves up a tree!
  • They have a varied vocalization, including purrs, growls, and coughs.
  • The leopard will mark its territory by scratching trees or use a urine scent. The territories range from tens to hundreds of square kilometers. A male leopard may share its territories with females but not other males.

Killing and Feeding habits of leopards

The leopard is not a picky eater. It would kill and eat almost anything it can overpower. It can feed on anything from rodents to birds to snakes to waterbucks. Nevertheless, its most common prey are medium-sized antelopes.  It has a particular liking for dogs and baboons. In fact, leopards and baboons are mortal enemies. A troop of baboons could even attack (and kill) a leopard during the day.

Like many wildlife, leopards generally avoid humans. However, they could also attack humans. As they often hunt baboons, they also target the neck of humans.

The leopard would stalk its prey in the bushes by stealth movements. It would attempt to get as close as possible to its prey before attacking it. It can stalk its prey for hundreds of meters, maintaining its head low. Then, it would make an explosive run pouncing on the prey with a killer bite on the nape of the neck or the throat. A leopard does not chase prey over long distances and will abandon a hunt when the element of surprise is lost.

A swipe of the paw kills small prey, such as rodents and birds.

Apart from stalking, leopards can camouflage in trees and pounce on its targeted prey from above.

It is a strong swimmer, too, and would even hunt fish in the water. It is the definition of a non-picky eater. No wonder it is widely distributed for a big cat.

A leopard would lick the fur of the hunted prey before eating. Sometimes, leopards would discard the stomach content before consuming the prey. Usually, it will start consuming the carcass with the chest and thighs.

It may go for days without drinking water as it gets its water needs from the prey it eats.

Leopards will scavenge if they get the chance. A leopard may chase a hyena or a cheetah from its kill. It can even eat rotten meat with ease.

Breeding habits of leopards

A female leopard attracts the male through the smell of urine. During mating, they stop their solitary habits as they mate for days. They even hunt and share kills during mating.

A female leopard can give birth at any time of the year. Usually, they would give birth to two greyish cubs with hardly any spots. The number of cubs ranges from two to four. The female would move her cubs from place to place until they are old enough to play or learn to hunt, usually at about five months. As leopards are solitary animals, the cubs leave their mothers after around two years. A leopard is ready for breeding after 2-3 years.

Threats faced by leopards

The big cats face several threats that are threatening their existence in the wild. Before 1800, the cat was conspicuous in virtually all over Africa. It was also common in many parts of Asia, including China. However, leopard has lost up to 75% of its range. Some of the modern threats to the leopard include:

Hunted for its beauty

The leopard’s beauty is also its curse. Many hunters target their soft fur for making robes and coats. Its whiskers, tail, and claws are also hunted for fetishes. As such, leopards are targets for illegal wildlife trade.

The retaliatory killing of leopards

Leopards are opportunistic carnivores. Meaning that they would hunt livestock if the opportunity arises. A leopard would usually kill one goat or sheep in a herd. However, it is not uncommon for one leopard to kill dozens of livestock. Some conservationists claim that such leopards have canine distemper.

Herders in Africa will often kill leopards if they attack their livestock. Conservation organizations in many pastoralist communities have a predator consolation scheme that pays herders for livestock killed by leopards and other wildlife.

What Can you do to save leopards in Africa?

You can seek to support the conservation efforts in Africa’s protected areas. This support could be achieved in a variety of ways, including:

  • Donating to organizations working with saving leopards in Africa
  • Spreading the word by supporting bloggers such as ourselves through sharing content
  • Not participating in the illegal wildlife trade

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