The Solitary Cat
How does the leopard escape human notice? He does it by being primarily a nocturnal beast—and an exceedingly stealthy and secretive one at that. In areas where man presents a threat, the leopard is cautiously silent. Only when angered will he emit threatening lionlike growls and coughs. Under normal circumstances, his vocalization is far less intimidating: a harsh grating sound—much like the sound of a saw cutting wood. According to the book Animals of East Africa, by C. T. Astley Maberly, it sounds like “Grunt-ha! Grunt-ha! Grunt-ha! Grunt-ha!—usually ending in a harsh sighing note.” In keeping with his love for secrecy, the leopard also emits a variety of low-intensity sounds, most of which humans cannot hear.
Furthermore, unlike the gregarious lion, the leopard is not a social cat. Although pairs are seen from time to time, leopards are solitary hunters. To reduce unexpected or hostile encounters, the leopard stakes out a claim of personal territory that may cover from 10 to 15 square miles [25 to 65 sq km]. He sprays a secretion from special glands to delineate the boundaries of his home range. The scent marker may inform other leopards as to the sex, age, sexual status, and possibly even the identity of the “landlord.”
Hunting is carried on with the leopard’s characteristic stealth. In Bible times he was known to lie in wait near towns, ready to pounce upon domestic animals with deadly swiftness. (Jeremiah 5:6; Hosea 13:7; Habakkuk 1:8) To protect his bounty from scavengers, such as hyenas and jackals, he stores his larger kills in the fork of a tree some 30 or 40 feet [9 or 12 m] above the ground. But how does he manage to haul the carcass of an antelope or a five-foot-tall [1.5 m] baby giraffe to such heights? This is not a secret the leopard gives up easily. But patient observers claim that it is achieved by sheer brute force. Leopards prefer to dine at leisure, bodies draped lazily over tree branches, and in total secrecy, camouflaged by the branches and foliage.
Left unchallenged, the leopard tends to be shy and retiring and will avoid a confrontation with man. So while some leopards have lost their fear of humans and have become man-eaters, most pose little threat to humans. If injured or cornered, however, the leopard displays no fear whatsoever of his enemy. “An angry leopard,” writes Jonathan Scott in The Leopard’s Tale, “is the very incarnation of ferocity, . . . capable of concentrating all its considerable energy into a short range attack of lightning speed.”
It is not surprising, then, that leopards also rear their cubs in relative secrecy. Newborn cubs are kept hidden, often in a cave, for the first two months of life. Though the father takes no part in rearing the cubs, the mother forms a close bond with them by feeding and cleaning them and keeping them warm. In time, the mother may move her litter of two or three cubs to a new home, carrying them in her mouth if they are still tiny or simply calling them to follow her if they are bigger.
A leopard mother also tries to keep her cubs out of the sight of enemies, such as baboons. But if baboons attack her cubs, she will charge them, endangering herself to give her cubs a chance to flee to safety. She also takes formidable risks to feed her cubs. The normally retiring cat will walk through a herd of trumpeting elephants in order to bring meat to her hungry offspring.
Interestingly, young leopards do not manifest their independent spirit for some time. Cubs are weaned at about six months but do not kill their own prey until they are a year old. Males do not become solitary adults until about two and a half years of age. Female cubs may continue sharing their mother’s home territory as adults.