The leopard is smaller than the tiger, lion and jaguar. Stockier than the cheetah, it is more slender and delicate in comparison to the jaguar.
Although highly variable, in general all leopards have black spots on a fawn coloured coat. They have solid spots on their heads, legs and belly and black rosettes on their back.
Leopards are still found across most of sub-saharan Africa, where they are widely but patchily distributed. It is estimated that they have disappeared from a third of their range with the most marked loss in the Sahel belt, Nigeria and South Africa.
Leopards have a gestation period of 90-105 days. They usually give birth to just one or two young but litters of six have been known!
Leopards prey on a range of species including reptiles, birds, small and medium sized mammals and even smaller carnivores including cheetahs.
The leopard can live almost anywhere, from deserts to rain forests. In Africa they do best in woodlands, grassland savannah and forests. However, African leopards are also found in mountain areas as high as 4,600 metres above sea level and low-lying swampy areas.
The main threats facing African leopards are loss of habitat and persecution from farmers in retaliation for livestock killings – both real and perceived. As the human population increases and spreads, inevitably people come in to contact with leopards more and more causing great conflict. Livestock farmers blame the leopards for the loss of their livestock, not always fairly, and so kill the leopards to protect their livelihood. An increasing threat is the poisoning carcasses of prey animals as a way to control carnivore populations.
In Africa, although leopards live in numerous protected areas across their range, the majority of the populations are found outside these protected areas leaving them vulnerable. In order to protect these populations we must put in place measures to reduce conflict where they come into contact with humans. These need to include better management and protection of livestock so there are less livestock losses and also a better understanding so conflict can be resolved without the need for retribution killings.
Emma Stone, Malawi
African wild dog, African leopard
Small worldwide grant
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