When it comes to African predators, they don’t come more beautiful and mysterious than the leopard. This solitary hunter is the strongest of Africa’s big cats and can carry up to three times its own body weight, stashing kills that often weigh more than they do in trees to avoid losing them to scavengers and other predators like lions.
Widely distributed throughout Africa, leopards have made a variety of habitats their home, including tropical rainforests, deserts, coastlines, mountain ranges and even urban metropolises, thanks to their ability to survive on a wide range of prey animals from fish, insects, birds and monkeys to larger animals like antelopes. In urban areas leopards have developed a preference for domestic animals like dogs and cats, and their targetting of livestock like sheep and goats has put them in danger from human-wildlife conflict.
Leopards are mostly nocturnal hunters, preferring the cover of darkness, using their specially adapted eyes that allow them to see seven times better than us mere humans.
They are skilled diurnal predators as well, using their marvellous spotted coat to blend into their environment while stalking stealthily. They can run at speeds of up to 58km an hour, so they are no slouches when it comes to getting a move-on but where they out-compete their cousins the lion is in their incredible agility and the ability to climb trees with effortless ease.
Here at Abelana Game Reserve we are blessed to have a healthy leopard population and Abelana River Lodge guests regularly get to see these incredible cats in action, albeit mostly after dark. Indeed, the area around the lodge is part of the territory of a huge male who hunts in the thick riparian forests that edge the Selati River. There is also the gorgeous Mulati female who is also “spotted” from time to time close to Abelana River Lodge and footprints are regularly found around Abelana Safari Camp in the south of the reserve.
Leopards are very territorial and males will not tolerate interlopers. Female territories tend to overlap though, and they are more accepting of strangers as long as they are other females!
Male leopards grow much larger and more imposing than the females, with huge heads and thick necks. They can weigh in at up to 90kgs while the females usually top-off at around 60kgs. The females are definitely the more beautiful with their feline grace and more delicate features and build.
Leopards mate throughout the year, but there tends to be more activity in the rainy season. Females choose dens or lairs to give birth in, hiding their cubs in a series of these hiding places until they are old enough and big enough to fend for themselves and accompany her wherever she goes. Dens can be made in amongst granite outcrops like those found around Abelana Safari Camp, or in disused aardvaark holes and termite mounds, or even in dense thickets under fallen trees, provided there is a lot of cover.