IUCN- (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Classification:
Grade of endangerment: 5-6 – endangered to highly endangered
The leopard is a relatively small type of wildcat, although it is larger and stronger than a cheetah. It is said to be the most intelligent of all big cats. Its body is light and flexible. That is why it is able to run very swiftly and can fall from trees without hurting itself. However, its build depends on the region it lives in. Leopards found in forests are often smaller and more heavyset, in contrast to grassland leopards that are larger and thinner. Hence, their body length varies on average between 1-2 m, their tails add a further meter to their length. There is also a variation in weight as, depending on the region, a male can weigh 40 to 80 kg, whereas a female weighs between 30 and 60 kg. Leopards have very well cushioned pads and strong claws, so they’re able to prowl very well, which is a highly advantageous attribute when it comes to hunting. Their senses are extremely well developed and their ears are flexible so they can hear in every direction. During the day, their eyesight is equal to a human’s, but at night it is far better. They can widen their slit shaped eyes so that more light gets to their retina when it is dark. Furthermore, the tapetum lucidum, also known as the reflective retina, makes night vision better. The leopard’s closest relatives are lions and jaguars. The earliest leopards lived over 1.9 million years ago.
Leopards are the most widely spread wildcats. They live on several continents: Africa, Asia and Arabia. They are also found in many different regions: plains, savannas, mountains and forests. The Congo is the country with the most non-captive leopards. A leopard is highly versatile thanks to its adaptability. Throughout many generations, various subspecies have evolved, which are made noticeable through the color of fur, because of its presence around the world. For example, there are black leopards that live in rainforests, whereas brown spotted leopards live in grasslands. Armur leopards on the other hand, have become extinct and snow leopards are defined as their own species. Black fur is inherited recessively; hence, a brown spotted leopard mother could very well have black cubs. In contrast to other wildcats such as lions and cheetahs, leopards prefer to live on unclearly laid out sites, where they can hide behind trees or in caves. They do not mind sharing their territory with humans. This especially sets them apart from their fellow big cats, as they tend to favor man’s best friend, the domestic pet, as prey. However, they do not usually attack humans themselves.
Leopards are mavericks. They live in territories up to 500 squared kilometers. Sometimes, male and female territories overlap. The borders are marked by scratch marks in tree bark or urine on the grounds. If there is a need for it, they will defend their marked region through bloody battles. Leopards are also observers. They like to find a tree or hill that allows them to keep everything in prospective. If they can, they evade their enemies, a wise idea, as they are not very strong. They seldom stand a chance against lions, hyenas and tigers. Hence, confrontations usually end deadly.
The mating season of leopards only lasts a few days. Although, after the actual mating, the male does stay with the female throughout the upbringing and scavenging, which lasts around three months. Litters usually contain 2-5 cubs. On average, 1-2 youngsters survive. At first, their mother nurses them, but after about ¼ of a year they accompany her on hunts to learn the skills needed. After two years, they are adults, after three, they are sexually mature. Ordinarily, a leopard lives to be 15 years old.
Leopards prefer to eat small game and ungulates. If these animals are not available, they turn to reptiles and birds. Only when they are in much need of food do they eat insects. Again, this shows their immense adaptability to living conditions. Due to its slim figure, like that of the cheetah, a leopard can use its speed to hunt down prey. It ambushes its victim by first, creeping up to it, then lunging at it, only to ram it after that, bringing it down at the same time and alas, strangling it through one single bite of the throat. Often, the prey’s cervical spine is broken in the process. Swiftly, it is dragged to the living structure, so it can be protected from the leopard’s enemies, the lion and the hyena. On a similar note, leopards kill more than they can eat, thus, they can turn to rations at a later time. Also, they prefer to hunt at night.
Currently, the IUCN states that leopards are the least threatened animals of extinction because of their excellent adaptability. Nevertheless, they are highly threatened by humans. Initially, man hunted leopards because they killed their pets. Later, people feared they would attack inhabitants sharing their territory. Furthermore, leopard fur is highly desirable in the fashion and luxury world, thereupon which much money can be made. The organization of hunting events can be highly profitable as well. As a result of all this, the appearance of the leopard has drastically declined. Already, it has become extinct on the Sinai Islands, Zanzibar and in Morocco. An extinction will also occur in Caucasus and the Armus region soon. There are only 20 leopard species left on the Arabian Peninsula, in Anatolia and Palestine, as well as in Iran, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China.
Leopards that are raised in captivity are problematic, as it is difficult to resettle them in new regions. More often than not, these new regions are already occupied by other leopards. As a consequence, bloody battles take place. That is why it would be wiser to settle these problematic leopards in our special operated farms.
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