Leopards have a kind of hypnotic beauty. Lions can hold you rapt with a deep-throated roar or smouldering gaze, cheetahs can leave you breathless with their turn of speed or finely poised grace, but leopards can just be leopards. A brief glimpse of that long, luxuriant tail disappearing into dense bush will do just fine for many of us.
Did you know... leopards live on average for 10-12 years in the wild and up to 23 years in captivity.
RANGE & HABITAT
Although they prefer riverine forests and rocky landscapes with dense scrub, leopards are the most widespread of the big cats, found in habitats ranging from the mountain slopes of East Africa to semi-desert regions of Southern Africa.
Despite being highly adaptable (even to some urban environments) the leopard is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Conflict with livestock farmers, trophy hunting and habitat loss are major threats.
TALES FROM THE WILD AFRICAN LEOPARD
"My guide knew all the tricks for tracking the fickle feline. We drove along the edge of dense woodland where he checked favoured resting trees – old jackalberries with black, twisted limbs. He stopped and listened for telltale alarm calls – impala sneezing, baboons barking – and he studied tracks on sandy riverbanks. My method was more random. I simply let my gaze flicker from tree to tree, tripping up on leopard-shaped stumps and branches that seemed, at first glance, to sprout ears. Every now and then, I latched onto movement – impala skittering away, like autumn leaves picked up by a gust of wind; sparrow weavers squabbling through the thorn scrub. Despite the fact that we were searching for a largely nocturnal cat in a wilderness the size of the Netherlands, I never lost that sense of anticipation; the feeling that this might be the day. The reality was that if the big cat didn’t want to be seen, there was very little you could do about it."