Formidable Feline – May 2010

Shot of the Month – May 2010

Although it is the smallest of the “Big Cats”, the leopard, shown here, may be the most successful of the group.  Informally, the “big cats” are the four members of the genus Panthera and include the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard.

Fun fact for your next party conversation:  These are the only four cats that can roar.

The leopard is the ultimate survivor and is highly adaptable.  Leopards have the widest distribution of any big cat and can live in jungles, woodlands, and open savannah in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, India, and China.  Leopards are so adaptable they are even found in the temperate forests in the Russian Far East where they endure temperatures as low as -13° F in the winter.  Although rarely seen scientists believe that the global leopard population may be greater than the population of lions and cheetahs combined.  Despite their relative success, most leopard populations outside of Africa are endangered due to loss of habitat.

Leopards prefer mid-size antelope as their main food source, though depending on the situation, they can survive on dung beetles, monkeys, rodents, reptiles, birds, fish, and well, you get the idea, just about anything they can catch.  Correspondingly, leopard size can vary greatly depending on the nature of its diet.  Males are typically 30% larger than females and can weigh from 65 to 200 pounds.  Females can weigh from 50 to 130 pounds.

Leopards are the decathlon athletes of the natural world:  they can reach speeds of 36 mph, have a vertical leap of 10 feet, have a horizontal leap of more than 20 feet and are strong swimmers.  Their primary hunting style is based on stealth as they move quietly through the bush and pounce on prey from a short distance.  They also hunt from trees surprising their prey from above.  Leopards are very muscular and pound for pound are the strongest of any cat.  A leopard can carry prey 3x times its body weight into a tree.

As you can see, the diminutive leopard is in many regards the biggest of the big cats…