Leopards (Panthers pardus) are the largest of the spotted cats. Their heavy build, pug-mark spots and thick, white-tipped tail distinguish them from the more slender cheetah. They are the most elusive of the large cats, principally because of their nocturnal and secretive habits. Leopards have been little studied so not much is known of their behaviour in the wild. They are active day and night, but veer strongly towards nocturnalism, due to harassment.
Leopards are found in all except the driest African habitats—woodland, bushland, wooded grassland and forest. They are the most widespread member of the cat family, even commonly occurring in suburban areas. Large rocks and kopjes and large trees along rivers are favourite resting sites. As long as there is an adequate food supply and a minimum of persecution, the leopard is at home. Despite their adaptability, persecution by those involved in the fur trade and competition with man for living space, have reduced leopard numbers drastically.
Their characteristic call is a deep, rough cough, repeated 10 to 15 times, sounding like a saw cutting wood. Males have distinctly deeper voices than females. The sawing call serves to advertise presence and to discourage other leopards from trespassing into defended territory, thereby avoiding destructive territorial fights.
Greetings are often accompanied by a short growl. The beginning of an agressive charge maybe heralded by two or three short coughs, and those foolish enough to corner a leopard never forget the beast rearing up on its hind legs and uttering a blood-curdling scream.
Leopards have few natural enemies and their skill in climbing trees assures them protection from all but the most aggressive lions. Anyone who has scanned the branches and canopy of a tree for a leopard knows just how well they blend into the blotched light and shade.
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