Having visited game reserves in West, East and South Africa there is one cat that never ceases to impress the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus).
DNA evidence shows that the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard shared a common ancestor nearly 11 million years ago.
The leopard is an agile and stealthy predator, and its success in the wild owes in part to its opportunistic hunting behavior. The leopard is known for its ability in climbing, and it has been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging its kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. It is a powerful swimmer, although, not as strong as some other big cats, such as the tiger. The leopard is primarily a nocturnal creature
Although mid-sized animals are preferred, the leopard will eat anything from dung beetles to 900 kg male giant elands. Their diet consists mostly of monkeys, but rodents, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish are also eaten. In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of the leopard’s prey, especially impala and Thomson’s gazelles.
The leopard stalks its prey silently and at the last minute pounces on its prey and strangles its throat with a quick bite. Leopards often hide their kills in dense vegetation or take them up trees, and are capable of carrying animals up to three times their own weight this way. The leopard is also the only big cat that can carry its prey up into a tree.
A male may follow a female that catches his attention, although eventually a fight for reproductive rights may take place. Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round (Asia and Africa). The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Gestation lasts for 90-105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4, but infant mortality is high and usually no more than 1–2 cubs survive beyond their infancy.
Month old leopard cub resting safely in a tree.