Written by: John Mitchler
OUR DAILY GRACE FROM SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK TANZANIA
The leopards of Serengeti can be seen along rivers and in the denser parts of the woodlands. By day, leopards often lounge and nap in large trees with sloping stems. After making a kill, they will drag it back and up into a convenient tree for protection; presumably from lions or hyenas who might steal their catch. A leopard will then return to the tree for several days to feed and rest. The classic pose of a leopard is feet dangling from a large Acacia tortilis tree, fast asleep with a gazelle draped over the tree in front of it.
Unlike lions, leopards are solitary animals throughout their lives. They establish and defend territories, meeting only to mate. Leopards mature at two years old and can have cubs every two years after that. Mothers appear to allow their young into their territory and have been seen to cooperatively hunt with them.
Leopards communicate by roaring and by scent. Their roaring sounds like a person sawing through a very rough piece of wood. Roaring can define their territories or signal that they are alarmed. Leopards also purr and meow similar to domestic cats, but normally only between mother and cubs. Scent marking is done using an anal gland similar to other cats. Marks are sprayed on bushes or trees on or near the leopard’s territorial boundary. They claw at the tree, sharpening their claws, and then spray urine on the tree to mark it.
The Serengeti leopard population appears to be healthy, though because they are so stealthy and reclusive, not as much is known about them as lions or cheetahs. Leopards, because of their stealth and their ability to live on a wide and varied diet, seem to have a relatively stable population across Africa. Serengeti is the best places to see leopards in Africa specifically along the riverine game viewing-tracks. Leopard camouflage makes them extremely difficult to see on the ground, so looking into tall trees with inclined trunks is the best bet for finding a resting leopard.
African leopards exhibit great variation in coat color, depending on location and habitat. Coat color varies from pale yellow to deep gold or tawny, and sometimes black, and is patterned with black rosettes while the head; lower limbs and belly are spotted with solid black. Male leopards are larger, averaging 60 kg (130 lb) with 91 kg (201 lb) being the maximum weight attained by a male. Females weigh about 35 to 40 kg (77 to 88 lb) on average.
Throughout Africa, the major threats to leopards are habitat conversion and intense persecution, especially in retribution for real and perceived livestock loss.
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