Fascinating facts about African leopards

Ready to discover some interesting facts about leopards ?

In this post we will look at things like:

  • what makes Leopards so elusive? Why are they such secretive predators?
  • what sounds they make i.e. do they purr like domesticated cats?
  • what they prefer to eat,
  • the classic hunting techniques they use and
  • most importantly - what threatens their existence.

leopard factsLeopards have long been preyed upon by man for their beautiful fur coat which are used for clothing

These African cats are the most common large cats in Africa - so it is ironic that it is also the cat that is the most difficult to spot when you are in the African bush.

This is due to the fact that they are rather shy, secretive and mainly nocturnal.

In game reserves they have grown completely accustomed to vehicles but do not expect them too simply stroll across the road however.

These animals are very agile climbers and pound for pound, the strongest climber of the large cats.

To spot them you will usually need a pair of binoculars and scan the tree tops on the horizon.

As you look for them in trees, you may notice them often draped along thick tree limbs in an effort to escape the midday heat.

You my also be lucky enough to see them feasting on a kill they dragged aloft into a tree.

They do this to keep their prize safe from scavengers such as hyenas.

Where do leopards live

Leopards are distributed all over the world in more than 70 countries.

On the continent of Africa you can expect to see them in Ghana, Niger, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

They can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from desert country to equatorial forests, high mountains to coasts.

Are these animals very territorial?

They are very solitary animals.

They defend territories against other leopards of the same sex but the territories of males overlap those of females. 

leopardLeopards can see seven times better in the dark than humans.

They do seem to tolerate a certain level of overlap with their neighbors.

Rivals appear to avoid each other in some sort of "time-sharing system".

They advertise occupation of a territory by marking it with urine and faeces.

They also leave claw marks on the bark of trees and use vocal signals to mark their territory.

These cats have astonishing powers of navigation and homing.

This capacity that has hampered attempts to relocate them away from human settlement when they become stock raiders.

What sounds do leopards make?

They have a distinctive contact call that sounds remarkably like a wood saw.

leopard behavior factsLike your domestic house cat, leopards purr when the feel content

This call allows territorial neighbors to keep away from each other, and males and females to find each other.

These animals growl when aggressive and spit and snarl when they feel threatened.

What do leopards eat?

One reason behind their success lies in their diet, which spans a very wide range.

They eat almost any vertebrate, including:

  • reptiles,
  •  fish, and 
  • mammals ranging in size from dung beetles and porcupines to kudu

In the Kruger national park their diet consists of:

-29% impala,

-Burchells zebra 16%,

-wildebeest 14%,

-warthog 13%

and porcupine 13%.

They however prefer medium-sized antelope like impalas.

It is well known they eat more predators than do other carnivores, particularly jackals.

How do leopards hunt their prey?

The usual hunting technique is classically feline.

When it sights a potential target it stalks forward with head low and legs bent making clever use of cover.

leopard what do they eatThese cats can run at about 35 miles per hour

This African animal will stalk a target over distances of a few hundred meters, or wait in ambush if the target moves towards it.

Once it is within a range of about 10 meters, this cat dashes forward and uses the sharp, hooked claws of each forepaw to kill their prey.

The killing bite is directed at the nape of the neck or at the throat.

Small prey such as mice, rats and small birds are simply swatted to death with a single swipe of a paw.

leopard hunting factsIndividual leopards can be distinguished by their unique spot patterns. Scientists are therefor able to monitor their number and movements over time.

Guts of large prey are pulled out and discarded before it begins consuming its meals.

It uses its incisor teeth to pluck birds and furry mammals such as rabbits.

Where there are many scavengers around the prey is carried up into a tree and wedged among the branches.

Their strength is demonstrated by their ability to carry carcasses weighing more than 50 kg up vertical tree trunks.

They readily eat rotten meat and will feed on a stored carcass for up to four days.

They scavenge if they get the chance and can steal kills from cheetahs, lone hyenas and any of the smaller carnivores.

How do leopards breed?

A female on heat attracts males by the smell of her urine.

The male and female may stay together for several days, even sharing kills, and they mate repeatedly over a few days.

leopards mating habits

Cubs are born in heavy cover or in caves.

leopard cubLeopard cubs are immensely vulnerable during the first weeks of their lives.

Leopard cubs are immensely vulnerable during the first weeks.

Cubs are are born blind. Their eyes start opening at around 10 days of age. Leopard mothers move their cubs to a different location every couple of days to hide them from potential predators.

They first accompany their mothers on hunts at four months and usually make their first kills at five months.

What are the best places to see them in Southern Africa?

Your best chances of spotting one in the African bush is somewhere in the:

  • Kruger National Park,
  • Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park or the
  • Moremi Game Reserve.

How endangered is this African animal ?

A long time ago these African animals lived in a big range which stretched from Siberia to South Africa.

Today however, theses cats have relinquished up to 75 percent of their original range. A recent paper published in May 2016 in the scientific journal PeerJ contains a detailed analysis of their status.

Because this is such a difficult animal to track it has taken scientists a long time to recognize their global decline in numbers.

leapords threat statusThe leopard is an amazingly adaptable species but several subspecies are currently on the brink of extinction

The biggest threats to them are habitat conversion for agriculture and other human development. They are persecuted by humans because of their conflict with livestock-keepers as well as game farm owners.

They are also targeted in the illegal trade in skins and body parts as well as some trophy hunting.

These African animals require greater protection and better regulation of the trophy hunting industry.

Leopards can survive humans in areas where they have enough cover to hide, access to their natural prey, and are tolerated by local people.


We call on everybody reading this to please support all initiatives protecting these magnificent cats. Our actions will determine the leopard’s fate during the next few years.

You can start by sharing this page with your friends through your preferred social media channels.

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