The famous saying that the leopard cannot change its spots is not true. As a matter of fact, a leopard does do so with time.
The leopard is a powerful climber, runner, and swimmer. This lethal combination makes it a predator par excellence. It is especially skillful in climbing up and down trees, carrying carcasses that are sometimes heavier than themselves, and it often descends headfirst. However, climbing down headfirst may not provide it with the necessary grip because its claws are curled inward. So, some leopards climb down tail first or side-on in order to get a proper grip.
By nature, this tree-climbing cat is secretive and elusive, but also very shrewd. It is nocturnal, which means that most of its activity takes place during the night. The hours of the day are reserved for resting on trees or thick bushes.
It also has a wonderful ability to adapt. While the best type of habitat for this creature is riverine forests or dense bushes in rocky surroundings, it is able to adapt to other forests and climates. In the face of loss of habitat due to deforestation and development, it is this ability that has held this animal in good stead.
The Famous Leopard's Spots
The leopard's spots are a very well-known and popular feature. The markings on its coat are quite famous, especially because of its adaptation into high fashion. The pattern of distinctive dark spots on its light-brown-yellowish coat are called rosettes as they resemble the shape of a rose. The black leopard (commonly called black panther) also has similar markings, but because of the darkness of its coat, the spots aren't visible.
Distribution and Habitat
This cat inhabits regions of sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, India, and China. Its numbers are said to be higher than the other species under Panthera. Its habitat can range from the rainforests to deserts. It prefers woodlands or grasslands.
This species is classified as 'nearly threatened' in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. This is because of a decline in its numbers as it's being hunted as a part of wildlife trade and habitat loss. It is regionally extinct in Kuwait, Hong Kong, Libya, Tunisia, Syrian Arab Republic, and Singapore.
On an average, this animal is between 3 to 5 feet (35 to 65 inches) long excluding the tail length. The tail is between 2 to 3 feet (24 to 40 inches) long. Males weigh between 66 to 200 lbs. (30 to 90 kg), while females weigh between 50 to 130 lbs. (25 to 60 kg). It is the smallest of the big cats within the genus Panthera as compared to lions, tigers, and jaguars. Males are up to 50% larger than females.
The color and pattern of the coat depend on the region that the leopard inhabits; those living in warmer, dryer areas have a light buff or tawny coat, while those that live in dense forests have a darker coat. East African leopards have circular spots, while southern African leopards have square rosettes.
This is mainly a solitary creature. Each individual has its own home range, which usually overlaps with its neighbors. The animal stalks its territory, never staying in one spot for more than two or three days at a time. The territory is marked with urine and claw marks. Leopards make a rasping cough-like sound to announce their approach to other leopards.
Hunting and Diet
The leopard uses the stalking technique to hunt, wherein it very silently stalks the prey and attacks it suddenly, startling the animal. It kills its prey by strangling it by biting the neck. It can run at speeds as high as 40 miles per hour, making it easy for it to chase its prey. It can also jump to almost 10 feet in height.
A leopard's prey options are surprisingly wide and varied and include carrion, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals such as rodents, hares, hyraxes, warthogs, antelopes, monkeys, and baboons. It drags the killed prey into trees to prevent it from being stolen by lions and hyenas. It can drag carcasses three times its own weight (including small giraffes) onto trees. With regards to drinking, it does not need a lot of water; it lives off the moisture of its prey.
A female usually gives birth to a litter of two or four cubs. The gestation period is from 90 to 105 days. The offspring are born with coats of smoky-gray, while their spots are not yet clearly delineated. The mother usually keeps the cubs hidden for the first 8 weeks. She suckles them for 3 months or longer and gives them a taste of meat at the 6th to 7th week. She will stay in one place with them till the time they are able to accompany her on her wanderings.