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The leopard is one of the iconic animals of Africa. Often confused with the cheetah, the leopard is the stockier, heavier feline that calls the savannah and forests of Africa home.
The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is one of the many subspecies of leopard that are found all over the globe. Like its international cousins, the African leopard is the smallest of the four, so called, big cats, in the genus Panthera. The leopard has relatively short legs, a long body and a large skull. The African leopard is also slimmer than its other counterparts from around the globe.
Unlike its cousins, the African leopard's base colouration is determined in a large part by it habitat. It can vary from a reddish brown to dark yellow to cream. Their fur is covered in black rosettes that usually do not have spots within them. Like a person's fingerprints, these rosettes are unique to each individual.
Contrary to popular belief, leopards do not subsist solely on the meat of mammals. While the meat of medium and large mammals are their preferred fare, leopards can also eat insects, rodents and reptiles. They are technically nocturnal animals that usually start hunting at dusk, but have been known to hunt during the day if the need arises. It is this adaptability of the leopard that makes it such a successful animal.
Despite its short legs, the leopard is able to reach speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. Their preferred method of hunting involves stalking the prey then catching it in a short burst of speed. While they have sharp teeth, leopards kill their prey through strangulation. They clamp their powerful jaws around the throat of their prey and cut off their supply of air.
Once they have killed their prey, leopards usually take the carcass into a tree or hide it somewhere in tall grass to protect it from predators. The leopard's ability to lift a large animal carcass, sometimes as large as a fully-grown eland, into a tree is an indication of the relatively small animal's incredible strength.
The leopard has been part of human history for a long time. Many monarchs domesticated leopards as pets or kept specimens of these beautiful cats in menageries and zoos. They form part of numerous myths in Africa and the Mediterranean and are respected as agile hunters and embodiments of strength. On a less attractive note, they were also once sought after for their attractive fur.
While they may have been in danger in the past, the African leopard is considered to be 'near threat' at the moment. Various conservation efforts have ensured that leopards continue to thrive in many of the areas where they were once found. Aside from trophy hunting, leopards are in danger from humanity encroaching on their habitat. With many leopards now living in reserves or in national parks, these dangers are fast becoming a thing of the past.
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