Wednesday, April 23, 2014
After watching a documentary about leopards, I have developed a new found respect for these extraordinary cats. Leopards are sometimes known as the shadows of Africa, due to the secretive lives they lead. Leopards prefer to remain undetected, especially by predators such as lions and, sometimes, other leopards. They are some of the smartest cats, sometimes outranking even lions in hunting strategy.
When we think of leopards, we think of a larger, killer African cat. Or at least some of us do. But rarely do we realize that leopards are much different than any other cat. Mothers are extremely caring and protective, constantly defending their cubs from predators and moving them to safe places. They make hard choices sometimes, whether to leave their cub behind when a predator spots them or to risk their life trying to protect their baby. In the end, they usually end up staying with the cub.
Lions, hyenas and even baboons are all threats to leopards. Though leopards are strong and can be savage when they want, they are very smart: they don't pick fights, and they retreat when confronted by an enemy rather than risking their life in a battle. That is remarkable behavior for a predator, especially a cat. When lions try to steal a leopard's kill, the leopard lets them, knowing it isn't worth getting injured.
Mother leopards work hard - much harder than we realize. Their babies are under constant danger, from all kinds of creatures. Baboons, lions of course, hyenas, and other large mammals. The mother leopard must find a safe spot for her kittens, usually a den. If baboons locate the cubs, the mother fiercely defends them, then moves them to a safer spot. She is a single mother, you know, so all the work is left to her. In a pride of lions, the work is split up - the male is the defender and protector, and the females do the hunting. But the mother leopard does all of this herself. She must protect the cubs at all cost, and hunt for both them and herself, then later teach them by letting them accompany her.
Leopards are extremely powerful, fast and clever. They are fantastic climbers and therefore are at home in trees. They have been known to drag prey more than twice their weight up a tree and onto a branch, where it will be safe from lions and hyenas and where the leopard can feast on it easily. Climbing up a tree is easier than getting down it, so the leopard has to move carefully, digging its claws into the bark before leaping down. In trees it is not only content but safe from predators. Lions aren't very good at climbing, mainly because they're too heavy and not as agile as leopards. Even when following a leopard up a tree, they usually give up climbing after a few minutes.
Leopards are not the killers some people think of them as. Attacks are extremely rare, which is strange considering that leopards have many opportunities to kill people and choose not to. People must be the easiest prey on Earth, and yet leopards do not attack them, even when given the chance. Even shy cats like cougars sometimes take advantage of an opportunity, but leopards almost never do. Instead they prefer to slink into the shadows when a human passes by, keeping hidden.
Leopards are much more at home in the water, too, then many cats, and they are excellently strong swimmers. Though we know tigers love water, we usually don't realize that leopards do too. They will swim across rivers and ponds to catch prey or when looking for or patrolling a territory, and sometimes eat fish or crabs if they can catch them.
Leopards usually hunt on the ground, stalking low in tall grass where they can hardly be seen. They keep silent, their paws making almost no sound at all, their tail curled at the end and their shoulders bunched. They usually prey on large mammals such as antelope, gazelle and wildebeest, but their range of food is wide. They will hunt small mammals, deer, warthogs, and occasionally birds as well. Unlike lions, who try to create panic, leopards generally sneak up on their prey, get as close as they can, and pounce. They drag their victim to the ground, giving a lethal bite to the neck of the neck to suffocate their prey. Once the animal is dead, they drag it either up a tree or to a secluded spot in a burrow or in tall grass where it is not likely to be discovered. If lions or hyenas happen to find it, the leopard leaves and hunts another animal for itself.
Leopards communicate silently, almost as if they are reading each other's minds. Sometimes they use low roars or growls, but usually they talk using eye contact and body language.
Leopards are perhaps the most widespread cats in the world. They are native to more than 35 African countries, and also live in many parts of Asia, though Asian leopards are slightly different - not as heavy and usually lighter colored. Some also live in the Middle East. Amur leopards (below), in Russia, are extremely rare. They are critically endangered, and there is said to be as little as 50 living in the wild. These leopards endure freezing cold winters, and in Siberia they are one of the only large predators - with the except of the Amur or Siberian tiger - so they are not in as much danger there as in Africa, although poachers have claimed many lives.
As you can see, the Amur leopard is larger than the African one, with a thicker coat and tail. They are perhaps one of the rarest cats in the world and the most elusive - the chance of actually seeing an Amur leopard in the wild is next to nothing.
Here's some quick facts:
Leopards can weigh up to 140 pounds.
Leopards are about 48 inches tall at the shoulder.
In captivity, leopards may live up to 21 years.
Usually one or two cubs are born after a gestation period of 2.5 months
Leopards are often considered a nuisance to farmers, who claim they kill livestock. Leopards have been poisoned and shot by many people, and have also been hunted for their exotic coats. Well, I'll tell you one thing: leopard's skin does not belong on humans.
I hope you all have learned one thing from this post: leopards are amazing, truly wonderful animals from God. They are smart, much less dangerous and aggressive than other big cats, and do not deserve to be killed, especially for their beautiful coats. They should be protected and respected for what they are.
Adios, my friends, for my post about the Shadows of Africa has come to an end.