The leopard, Panthera pardus, is a secretive but highly adaptable feline with many distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from its other “Great Cat” cousins. Where possible, leopards spend much of their time in the trees, which neither the lion or tiger is able to do, thanks to their ability to climb vertically.
Widely distributed across Africa and Asia, and originating in the late Pliocene to early Pleistocene, the leopard is now extirpated from much of its historic range. This is due primarily to conflict with human populations, illegal hunting, and declining prey populations. The leopard is sought after for its distinctive coat pattern for both luxury goods on the global market and ceremonial use in indigenous communities.
Leopards thrive in the widest range of ecosystems among any of the “Old World Cats”. They are found across a vast and varied range from Botswana to Sri Lanka, including arid desert climates, dense jungles, rainforests, savannah grasslands, and rugged mountain ecosystems and can be found as high as 5,200 m in the Himalayas.
Prey species are medium-size and large wild herbivores (antelopes, zebra, wildebeest, etc), which are increasingly threatened from the bushmeat trade. Like the ecosystems where they are found, leopards have a highly varied diet. In addition to larger prey, they will also feed on insects, reptiles, birds, and smaller mammals. While skilled generalists as a species, it’s typical for individual leopards to become specialists for a particular prey item. And where competitors—like the lion, cheetah, hyena, African wild dog, or tiger—are present leopards will cache their prey in thick vegetation or “hoist” their kills into trees.
Our female leopard, Savannah, is a lot like a typical teenage girl—she is temperamental, talks a lot, sleeps as much as possible, and likes to play games. In particular, Savannah seems to derive great pleasure from stalking unsuspecting passers-by and then boinging out to surprise them. She also loves playing with her food, often carrying it to a high platform to mock-attack it before settling down to feast. Her favorite target, though, is her brother Ramsey, whom she loves to torment in her own subtle ways. Though her sleepy nature means she doesn’t often put effort into pouncing on him, we’ve noticed that she’ll roll over onto her back and wave her paw in his face until he trots away, annoyed. That’ll show him, Savannah!
Powerful, clever, and agile, Ramsey is a majestic leopard with a remarkably easygoing personality. Like most big cats, he spends his days snoozing on a platform in the warm sunshine or in the cool darkness of his stone cave. On warm days he gingerly competes with his sister Savannah to make sure he gets to use the cave, even if he has to sit behind her and casually stretch out his legs to slowly shove her out the front of the cave. Ramsey is most active in the late afternoon and evening but can often be coaxed to rise from his mid-day slumber by the arrival of a staff member bearing his favorite treats—sprigs of rosemary or sage, or sometimes fresh venison. Then this garrulous fellow will ‘talk’, emitting a low groaning murmur that sounds one part annoyed and one part like begging. To our ears it sounds like a contented rumbling--the leopard version of a purr.