Written by ANTHONY HAM
Leopards are among the most difficult of the big cats to see in the wilderness of Africa and they’re one of the great prizes of any safari. That, and the fact that this is one beautiful cat.
Leopards are masters of stealth and of camouflage, and many will watch you pass without you ever knowing that they’re there. And yet, these are the most adaptable and widespread of Africa’s cats.
Leopards: defined by their spots
If you see one up close, you’ll understand why their intensely beautiful coats have become a global fashion accessory, as beloved by African strongman leaders as by high-street fashionistas.
The marks are rosettes, a circle of black spots surrounding an orange core. Leopards spend much of their time in trees or undergrowth and these colours allow them to become one with the foliage.
Muscular and not much smaller than female lions, male leopards can reach just under three metres-long, including the tail, although around two metres is the norm.
A solitary cat
There are few more solitary creatures in the animal kingdom than a leopard. Except when mating, males spend their lives alone. Females are similar except when they have cubs.
Female leopards give birth to up to 4 cubs but between 50% and 90% of these cubs will die during their first year. The cubs remain wholly dependent on their mothers during this time.
The mothers begin to wean the cubs after a couple of months. As they grow, she'll teach them the skills of hunting – for both mother and offspring, this is the most social time of a leopard’s life.
By the age of 2, a young leopard will either leave its mother or will be forced out to make its own way in the world and find its own territory.
The skill of the ambush kill
Leopards have been recorded eating more than 200 different species. That said, they have clear preferences: in Africa, impala, springbok and nyala routinely make up more than half of their diet.
Leopards frequently live in close proximity to human settlements, which means they can kill domestic livestock and dogs. However, attacks on people by leopards are rare.