Leopard Illustration

LEOPARD (Panthera pardus)

Leopards are the most wide spread of all the big cats, found from Africa to southeast Asia. They are remarkably adaptable cats, even being found in large cities, where they prey on domestic dogs. They are smart, agile, and athletic. Leopards will readily climb trees, even dragging their prey up into them to feed on their kills undisturbed.

Difficulty: Medium

Leopard Description

Leopards are big, powerful cats, similar in appearance to jaguars, but more slender. They are the largest spotted cat in Africa and have strong front legs and heads. Males have swollen looking necks. Their tawny fur is covered with rosettes, with an unspotted center. Melanistic leopards also known as black panthers occur, but mostly in tropical Asia. On our leopard tour, the cats we see in the Kalahari are lighter in coloration than the leopards we see a bit more north in the Okavango delta. Leopard weight in Botswana, weigh as much as 80kgs (176 lbs) with females weighing thirty to fifty percent less.

Leopards can be highly secretive. You will see them, if they want you to see them.

Leopard Distribution and Habitat

The leopard has the largest distribution of any wild cat in the world. It has a patchy distribution in Africa south of the Sahara, is sparsely found in the middle east and is widely distributed in Asia including the Russian Far East, all the way south to Java. Leopards call many habitats their home, including deciduous and tropical forests, mountains, savanna, and desert. Since there are no trees in the Kalahari desert, leopards will rest under bushes or even in the burrows of aardvarks. In the Okavango delta we look for leopards resting in trees, like large fig trees.

Leopards are often associated with water, which is why they love the Okavango Delta so much.

Leopard Feeding Biology

Leopards have the most varied diet of any wild cat and are known to feed on over two hundred different animals. Despite this wide array of prey items, leopards prefer to predate ungulates weighing 15-80kgs (33-176 lbs). In the Kalahari, Springbok are the main prey item for leopards. With little cover to hide in the Kalahari desert, leopards carefully stalk their prey until they are less than 10 meters (33 feet) from their target. In the Okavango Delta, impala are the preferred prey species for leopards, which are mostly hunted by waiting for them in cover and ambushing them.

A female leopard with her prey, that she has carried up into a tree to keep it safe from other predators. A hyena was waiting for scraps to fall down below.

Leopard Social Organization

Leopards are mostly solitary, coming together mainly for mating. Males however will often tolerate females and their cubs, including at kills. Leopard male territories are larger than those of females and overlap as many female territories as possible. Each leopard has a core area in its territory that it defends against leopards of the same sex, but there is considerable overlap between individuals at their territorial edges. They cheek mark and scent-spay to demarcate their territory. Their unique, rasping call probably also let’s other leopards know about territorial boundaries.

A female leopard scent-marks a tree with her urine. this can communicate her sexual availability or her territorial boundary

Leopard Reproduction

Leopards can give birth at any time of year, but generally time birthing when ungulate prey species are doing the same. One to three leopard cubs are born in general, though five cubs have been recorded on rare occasion. Leopard cubs reach independence at 12-18 months. When female leopards leave their mother’s territory, they don’t go far, often overlapping their new territory with a part of their mother’s range. Males will wander further away to make sure there isn’t any inbreeding. Females can live up to nineteen years in the wild, and males fourteen.