It is #caturday once again!

Lauren Moriarty
8 March 2022
Leopard species worldwide2

Figure 1: The eight leopard sub-species from around the world (www.recitals.wilderhood.com).

Today we are looking a bit closer at the African Leopard, Panthera pardus pardus.

Last weeks post provided a general overview of the Leopard, and their typical habitat, feeding style, and body. The African Leopard size and colouration can be found to be highly different across their geographical ranges. African leopards are generally the largest leopard compared with the rest of the world, with males being found to weigh up to 90 kg. However, those found in the coastal mountainous areas are much smaller. 

kruger national park3

Figure 2: African Leopard at the Kruger National Park (www.africanbudgetsafaris.com).

The African Leopard extends across much of Africa. They are found to inhabit an extensive range of different environments with highly variable habitat types. They occur in great abundance in sub-Saharan African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania and occur in environments with a range of woodiness such as grasslands, woodlands, and forests. However, they also inhabit coastal scrub, shrubland, mountainous areas, semi-desert and true deserts. Interestingly enough, they are also the only species to occupy both rainforest and desert habitats. Possible reason for their presence in such a varied array of habitat types could be attributed to prey distribution and availability, enhanced vantage points to locate prey, or more suitable den sites for young cubs. Unfortunately, 68% of their preferred habitat is located outside of protected areas, this is driving a larger conservation effort to help understand and protect this species. Sadly, the African leopard (as with the other subspecies) numbers continue to decline across their ranges. In South Africa alone, the leopard has declined by over 80% from it’s historical range. Subsequently, they are listed as Vulnerable on both the global IUCN Red List, and the Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

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Figure 3: IUCN Red List of Threatened species (2016) African Leopard distribution (red = extant, orange = possibly extant, dark yellow = possibly extinct, yellow = extinct). (http://www.catsg.org)

Fun Fact: It has been identified that the colouration and patterns of the African Leopard’s fur is associated with habitat type. The typical colour of a leopard is patterned with black rosettes, excluding the head, lower limbs and belly which have solid black spots. Variations of this colouration occur throughout Africa, examples include: savannah leopards having a reddish brown to light yellow-brown colour, desert leopards have a yellow-brown colour that is more pale, rainforest leopards display a dark golden colour, and mountain leopards exhibit an even darker golden colour.

In Africa, melanistic individuals (Panthers) are rare but sightings have been reported from Ethiopia, forests of Mount Kenya, areas within Mpumalanga, and the Magaliesberg mountain range in South Africa. They are more typically found in other regions such as Java, Indonesia and Malaysia. However, their population in these areas is incredibly scarce. Further range analyses are needed to clarify these numbers and identifications.

Leopards as described last week are excellent opportunistic and ambush hunters. Their general diet consists of small to large mammals, but they will eat anything that will help fill their nutritional requirements, this includes dung beetles. Their eyesight is the most important sense used for hunting, where they rely on stealth more than speed to capture their prey. Due to their highly adaptable nature and wide range of habitats, some areas require certain conditions for their survival. In the savanna, the impala is a vital and stable prey source even in drought affected years. Leopards in general, are not especially water‐dependent, as an example in the Kalahari, they have been found to drink water only once in ten days. 

The African leopard is threatened by scarce resources often resulting in conflict with farmers and their livestock. Habitat fragmentation from timber logging, agriculture land expansion, poaching, hunting, and use of poison are a few other threats leopards are faced with.  

 African Leopard 1

References

  • Balme, et al., 2014. Failure of Research to Address the Range wide Conservation Needs of Large Carnivores: Leopards in South Africa as a Case Study. Conservation Letters 7, 3–11.
  • Selier, J. 2019. African Leopard. [Online] https://www.sanbi.org/animal-of-the-week/african-leopard/ [Accessed 2022]
  • Swanepoel, et al. 2016. A conservation assessment of Panthera pardus. In Child MF, Roxburgh L, Do Linh San E, Raimondo D, Davies-Mostert HT, editors. The Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. South African National Biodiversity Institute and Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened species 2016
  • https://safarisafricana.com/animals/leopard/
  • http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=110