Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The most secretive and elusive of the large carnivores, the leopard is also the shrewdest. Pound for pound, it is the strongest climber of the large cats and capable of killing prey larger than itself. At 28” to the shoulder, this big cat weighs in at up to 140lbs. Leopards come in a wide variety of coat colours, from a light buff or tawny in warmer, drier areas to a dark shade in deep forests. The spots, or rosettes, are circular in East African leopards but square in southern African leopards. Dense bush in rocky surroundings and forest rivers are their favourite habitats, but leopards adapt to many places in both warm and cold climates. Their adaptability, in fact, has helped them survive the loss of habitat to increasing human settlement. Leopards are primarily nocturnal, usually resting during the daytime in trees or thick bush. The spotted coat provides almost perfect camouflage. Leopards are solitary creatures and predominately nocturnal. Each individual has a territory that overlaps with its neighbours, the male’s range being much larger and generally overlapping with those of several females. Leopards continually move about their territory, seldom staying in an area for more than two or three days at a time. Ranges are marked with urine and claw marks and leopards announce their presence to other leopards with a rasping cough. Leopards also growl, roar and purr. A litter includes two or three cubs, whose coats appear to be smoky grey, the rosettes not yet clearly delineated. The female abandons her nomadic wandering until the cubs are large enough to accompany her. She keeps them hidden for about the first 8 weeks, giving them meat when they are 6 or 7 weeks old and suckling them for 3 months or longer. The most elusive of the large carnivores, the leopard is a cunning, stealthy hunter, its prey ranges from strong-scented carrion, fish, reptiles and birds to mammals such as rodents, hares, hyraxes, warthogs, antelopes, monkeys and baboons. Both lions and hyenas have been known to take away a leopard’s kill. To prevent this, leopards store their larger kills in trees where they can feed on them in relative safety. Any medium calibre rifle from 30.06 and upwards is adequate with the best shot being for the shoulder and vitals area. Use the best quality soft nosed ammunition you can get.