The African leopard is the most common subspecies leopard with the least conservation concern.
The African leopard has an elongated body with relatively short, stocky legs. They have short rounded ears and long sensitive whiskers. Leopards have long tails that helps them to balance in trees. The African leopard varies in base color throughout Africa, depending on the location and habitat. They can vary from reddish brown, cream and dark yellow. Some leopards are black and are often known as black panthers. This condition is known as melanism. Their spots can sometimes be seen in bright light.
African leopards are covered in black rosettes. There are not normally spots within the rosettes. Each leopard’s spots are unique in that their patterns are never the same. Male leopards are larger and heavier than females. Their weight can range anywhere from 55 to 200 pounds. The leopard’s claws are retractable and hooked for climbing trees and tearing prey.
A leopard’s pregnancy period is usually between 90 to 112 days and they bear litters typically between 2 to 4 cubs. Leopard cubs stay with their mother for about 2 years. It is at about this age that they reach their sexual maturity. Male leopards roam a large territory so there is usually one leopard male with several females in his territory. The male marks his territory using feces, urine and facial marking and scrapings.
Diet and Hunting
Leopards have a very varied diet that includes insects, rodents, reptiles, and even large mammals. They sometimes take domestic livestock when other food is scarce. Leopards are very strong and they have been known to carry prey 2 to 3 times their own weight up into trees. They are nocturnal and usually don’t hunt until dusk. However, they are opportunists and will hunt in the daylight when necessary.
Like most cats they stalk close and run a relative short distance after their prey. They kill through suffocation by grabbing their prey by the throat and biting down with their powerful jaws. Leopards rarely fight other predators for their food because the risk of injury could be fatal. Leopards can get water from their prey but need to drink to survive.
African leopards inhabit all of Africa. This ranges from mountainous regions to grasslands and savannas. They also can live in desert and forest areas. They are very adaptable to their surroundings. They are incredibly resilient animals.
The biggest threat to the African leopard population is humans. They are hunted for their fur and sport and often killed for eating livestock. As the human population grows it creates more of a problem for them.