leopard in a tree- ZambiaThe most secretive and elusive of the large carnivores, the leopard is also the shrewdest.

Pound for pound, it is the strongest climber of the large cats and is capable of killing prey larger than itself.

The leopard is a solitary animal, hunting usually at night, and spending much of the day hiding in thickets or in the fork of a tree. They prey on small antelope, rodents, baboons, monkeys and birds, being quick and efficient hunters.

The power of their claws, leg muscles and neck muscles is astonishing. They will usually haul their kill, often weighing more than themselves, up into a tree to keep it from scavengers. It then rests from its exertion and at its leisure, begins to tear out tufts of fur. Having cleared a patch of flesh it starts its meal, saving the remains for later, safe from vultures and hyaenas. Leopards, like other cats, spend about two thirds of their lives sprawled out in relaxed slumber.

Leopards continually move about their home ranges, seldom staying in an area for more than two or three days at a time. With marking and calling, they usually know one another’s whereabouts. A male will accompany a female in estrus for a week or so before they part and return to solitude.

Dense bush in rocky surroundings and riverine forest are their favorite habitats, but leopards adapt to many places in both warm and cold climates. Their adaptability, in fact, has helped them survive the loss of habitat to increasing human settlement. Leopards are primarily nocturnal, usually resting during the daytime in trees or thick bush. The spotted coat provides almost perfect camouflage.

Leopards have long been preyed upon by man. Their soft, dense, beautiful fur has been used for ceremonial robes and coats. Different parts of the leopard the tail, claws and whiskers are popular as fetishes. These cats have a reputation as wanton killers, but research does not support the claim. In some areas farmers try to exterminate them, while in others leopards are considered symbols of wisdom. Leopards do well in captivity, and some have lived as long as 21 years

Both lions and hyenas will take away a leopard’s kill if they can. To prevent this leopards store their larger kills in trees where they can feed on them in relative safety.

The Mfuwe area of the South Luangwa National Park is well known for its frequent leopard sightings. Lower Zambezi is also a good Park for leopard spotting.