Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
Young leopard lying on rock
© Jon Villis

Written by Jon Villis via Bushwise

Normally seen in a distant tree canopy or as a fleeting glimpse while it runs away, leopards are shy and elusive animals.

As the master stalkers of the bushveld, leopards use all available cover as they ‘leopard crawl’ with belly close to the ground. Often getting within 10 metres of its unsuspecting prey before launching a devastating attack – delivered at tremendous pace and power – and sometimes instantly breaking the prey’s neck.

Leopard stalking in tall grass
© Jon Villis

Their great strength allows them to hoist their kills into trees, often lifting more than their own body weight up into the canopy. This provides protection from any other large predators or any scavengers who may otherwise steal the kill.

It also allows them the luxury of feeding over several days rather than stuffing themselves as quickly as possible.

Leopard stalking antelope
© Mark Kaptein

If not killed instantly, prey will be suffocated to ensure they do not make a sound that could alert other predators or scavengers to a kill. Leopards will also bury entrails under soil or vegetation, to further prevent detection of the carcass.

They usually hunt at night, although being opportunistic hunters will not turn down the offer of a meal at any time of day. They have even been known to jump straight out of a tree onto unsuspecting prey. Given that they hunt alone, they can be considered to be the most successful larger cat, with 1 in 5 of their hunts a success.

Leopard walking down dirt road in the wild
© Jon Villis

These solitary animals will vigorously defend territories that are same-sex exclusive, except on occasions where related females could have overlapping territories. Scent marking is performed by scratching on trees and walking their territories after rubbing their paws in their own urine.

Males will have regular confrontations at territorial boundaries; walking alongside each other along the boundary line and staring and growling at each other in an intimidating way.

Old leopard
© Jon Villis

Males and females come together mate. The females are considered to be very flirtatious, often roaming further than normal and calling out in order to attract a mate. She has a short gestation period of around 100 days, as she needs to get back to hunting as quickly as possible to provide food for herself and her cubs. She will then hide her cubs while hunting, and they will stay with her for 16-24 months while learning to fend for themselves.

A sighting of these elusive animals really should be on everyone’s bucket list; seeing this powerful predator up close is truly a memorable experience.

Leopard standing on fallen tree in the wild
© Jon Villis
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