Revealing the Leopard

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Mother and cub African leopard and cub on rock precipice gazing into the distance.
A leopard in a treeAfrican leopard resting on tree branch and staring straight at the camera. Right paw dangling down.
African leopard cleaning her two cubs.African leopard cleaning her two cubs.
African leopard resting on tree branch with right paw dangling down.African leopard resting on tree branch with right paw dangling down.
African leopard stalking a herd of agitated wildebeest.African leopard stalking a herd of agitated wildebeest.
Leopards in Africa usually have territories along river beds, inherited from their mothersLeopards in Africa usually have territories along river beds, inherited from their mothers. In mountains and deserts though their territories can be massive, hundreds of square miles, which must make finding a mate harder.
Leopards lead solitary lives.Leopards lead solitary lives. Only mothers and cubs are seen together, and very occasionally, brief matings. Males and females are so instinctively distrustful of each other it takes them weeks of long distance courtship, calling at night, and leaving scent marks, before they eventually meet.
Leopards are naturally cautious, despite their strength.Leopards like to rest with a good view. They are naturally cautious, despite their strength. Most leopards see or hear people coming long before we see them, and will slink off or hide. Only a few leopards are comfortable near people. This maybe because we have always hunted leopards. Chimpanzees also hunt leopards, chasing them out of their area, and killing them if they can.
Leopards in Asia often live on farmland, and even in cities.Leopards in Asia often live on farmland, and even in cities, eating stray pets and rubbish. Across Asia and Africa the huge majority of leopards are golden and spotted, but sightings of big cats across Europe are predominantly black. Perhaps they are easier to see, or perhaps the sightings reflect a mythology around large black predators.
Asia leopards tend to be smaller than African leopards.Asia leopards tend to be smaller than African leopards, and some, like this Indonesian leopard, not much larger than a large house cat. The black or melanistic leopard’s dark colour is thanks to a recessive gene, like red hair or blue eyes. They often give birth to spotted young, except in one isolated population in Indonesia where all the leopards are black.
Rare black, or melanistic leopards occur throughout Asia and Africa.Rare black, or melanistic leopards occur throughout Asia and Africa. They are commoner up mountains, or in isolated populations. They are exactly the same as normal leopards, except their pelt is almost black. In the right light it is possible to see the spots, very faintly showing in the black fur.
Leopards live on farmland, and even in the suburbs of cities.Throughout Africa, secret leopards live on farmland, and even in the suburbs of cities. They are rarely seen, and hardly ever take livestock, unless their natural prey is scarce. Nevertheless they are the most feared predator.
Despite a leopard’s awesome hunting ability, they usually eat small prey, birds like guinea fowl.Despite a leopard’s awesome hunting ability, stealth and lightening speed, they usually eat small prey, birds like guinea fowl. They defend their kills against most animals, but wisely avoid fights with lions of hyenas.
Male leopards can be very dangerous.Male leopards can be very dangerous, being about the same weight as a person, but much stronger and faster. They can lift prey in to trees that weigh as much as they do, using their teeth!
Leopards are very shy, despite their size and strength.Leopards are very shy, despite their size and strength. They originally evolved in the African jungle, but are very adaptable, and now live from the far end of Siberian Russia, to the farmland around the Cape, in South Africa. They are one of the most widespread large predators, and they outnumber all the other big cats added together.

Photos by © Mark Fletcher, Theo Webb/© BBC, © Jonathan Scott, and © BBC