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
Native to the Central Asian mountains, the snow leopard is a rare sight, with only about 6,000 left in the wild. They are hunted for their beautiful, warm fur and for their organs, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Photograph by Michael Nichols.
These rare, beautiful gray leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. They are insulated by thick hair, and their wide, fur-covered feet act as natural snowshoes.
Snow leopards have powerful legs and are tremendous leapers, able to jump as far as 50 feet (15 meters). They use their long tails for balance and as blankets to cover sensitive body parts against the severe mountain chill.
Snow leopards prey upon the blue sheep (bharal) of Tibet and the Himalaya, as well as the mountain ibex found over most of the rest of their range.
Though these powerful predators can kill animals three times their weight, they also eat smaller fare, such as marmots, hares, and game birds.
One Indian snow leopard, protected and observed in a national park, is reported to have consumed five blue sheep, nine Tibetan woolly hares, twenty-five marmots, five domestic goats, one domestic sheep, and fifteen birds in a single year.
As these numbers indicate, snow leopards sometimes have a taste for domestic animals, which has led to killings of the big cats by herders.
These endangered cats appear to be in dramatic decline because of such killings, and due to poaching driven by illegal trades in pelts and in body parts used for traditional Chinese medicine.
Vanishing habitat and the decline of the cats’ large mammal prey are also contributing factors.
Photography by Joel Forte, Antipolo City, Philippines – Photographed at Davao City, Philippines
If the irrevocable transition of one species from rarity to extinction causes a rent in the fabric of our planet, exactly how big a hole would be left by the loss of the Philippine eagle?
No disrespect is meant to the basking malachite damselfly or the fine-lined pocketbook mussel, because all creatures—and plants too—help turn the infinitely complex cogs of the biosphere.
But the loss of this glorious bird would steal some of the world’s wonder. It glides through its sole habitat, the rain forests of the Philippines, powerful wings spread to seven feet, navigating the tangled canopy with unexpected precision.
It is possible that no one has ever described this rare raptor, one of the world’s largest, without using the word “magnificent.” If there are those who did, then heaven heal their souls.
In the kind of irony all too familiar to conservationists, however, the very evolutionary adaptations that made it magnificent have also made it one of the planet’s most endangered birds of prey.
There is no competition for prey from tigers, leopards, bears, or wolves in the Philippine archipelago, the eagle’s only home, so it became, by default, the king of the rain forest.
Expanding into an empty ecological niche, it grew to a length of three feet and a weight of up to 14 pounds.
A nesting pair requires 25 to 50 square miles of forest to find enough prey—mammals such as flying lemurs and monkeys; snakes; and other birds—to feed themselves and the single young they produce every other year.
“The birds had the islands all to themselves, and they grew big,” says Filipino biologist Hector Miranda, who has studied the eagles extensively.
“But it was a trade-off, because the forest that created them is almost gone. And when the forest disappears—well, they’re at an evolutionary dead end.”
Red Seabeach: Photo by Jia Mi on Flickr | Copyright.
Contributor: Eric Grundhauser
Looking out across the world’s largest wetland area, the swath of marshy flora growing in the shallow waters of Dawa County, China is an eye-popping crimson, making the whole area look like it has been taken over by the fictional “red weed” popularised in H.G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds.
Despite its otherworldly appearance, the red grasses of this Chinese marsh have an all too Earthly, if still rare, origin.
The plant is actually a form of Chenopodium (a member of the Amaranthaceae), although this specific species is unique in that it can thrive in alkaline soil.
The unique landscape also is home to a number of endangered migratory birds and is protected, although tourists can walk among the rare reeds by specially installed wooden walkways that extend out over the delicate ecosystem.
It is unlikely that this location was a direct inspiration for Wells’ weeds, but it makes the site no less unearthly.
The area is also home to the world’s largest reed marsh which is harvested to make papyrus like paper products, perfect for writing science fiction stories on.