Leopards are graceful and powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars.
They live in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, India, and China. However, many of their populations are endangered, especially outside of Africa.
The leopard is so strong and comfortable in trees that it often hauls its kills into the branches. By dragging the bodies of large animals aloft it hopes to keep them safe from scavengers such as hyenas.
Leopards can also hunt from trees, where their spotted coats allow them to blend with the leaves until they spring with a deadly pounce. These nocturnal predators also stalk antelope, deer, and pigs by stealthy movements in the tall grass.
When human settlements are present, leopards often attack dogs and, occasionally, people.
Leopards are strong swimmers and very much at home in the water, where they sometimes eat fish or crabs
What could be better than two tiny leopard cubs? Three tiny leopard cubs, of course!
At least, that’s the attitude of administrators at Denver Zoo, who welcomed the addition of a female, clouded leopard cub to join the zoo’s two existing cubs of the same species on Saturday (May 17). Zookeepers hope this addition will increase the chances that these rare cats will one day breed successfully.
The as yet unnamed female was born on April 10 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), a veterinary and reproductive research center in Front Royal, Virginia.
The new cub joined a male, clouded leopard cub named Pi, and a female named Rhu, both born at the Denver Zoo on March 14.
Despite their name, these clouded leopard cubs are not actually leopards at all. They belong to their own genus, Neofelis, and are considered a bridge species between typical big cats (like lions and tigers) and small cats (like pumas, lynx and ocelots).
The clouded leopard cubs living at Denver Zoo will grow to between two to four feet long and will likely weigh between 24 to 50 pounds.
As to the celestial part of their name, the cats have distinctive, cloud-shaped blotches on their coats, which provide excellent camouflage in their native forest habitat.
The new cub arrived at Denver Zoo through a recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan, which promotes healthy populations, as well as genetic diversity, among zoo animals.
Where there are people, expect to find few leopards. That’s because the apex predator suffers from man hunting for their pelts, from habitat loss and fragmentation, and from retaliatory killings due to real or imagined losses of human or livestock lives.
Similarly, where there are tigers, expect to find few leopards. In this case, it’s because the two big cats compete for the same prey, and in most cases the tigers are socially dominant to the leopards.
Despite the odds stacked against them, leopards are actually quite widespread, ranging from Africa up through the Middle East and into southern and Southeast Asia.
So how do leopards manage to eke out their existence when they’re forced to contend with competition from other cats and a mix of aggression and habitat loss from humans?
New research from National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center researcher Neil Carter and colleagues suggests that leopards employ different strategies to deal with the different sorts of threats posted by humans and by tigers.
The study took place in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, which contains leopards and tigers as well as a veritable buffet of prey species on which the cats regularly dine: spotted deer, muntjac, hog deer, sambar deer, gaur (also known as Indian bison), and wild boar.
Carter collected his data primarily by using camera traps in the dry seasons of 2010 and 2011, deployed both within the park and within a forested area just outside the park in the “buffer zone” between the park and human settlements.