Scientific name: Panthera pardus
Swahili name: Chui
The leopard, is a member of the cats family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion and jaguar. The leopard is an agile and stealthy predator. Although smaller than the other members of the Panthera genus, the leopard is still able to take large prey given its massive skull that well uses powerful jaw muscles. The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhances the leopard's ability to climb trees
Size and coat colour:
The average weight of a fully grown male leopard is about 55kg. Females are
smaller at around 28 kg. Leopards generally have solid black spots on their legs
and heads and their bodies are covered in rosettes. No two leopards have exactly
the same spot patterns. The coat colour generally varies from pale yellow to deep gold or rufous.
Biology and behaviour
The leopard is known for its ability in climbing, and it has been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging its kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst The leopard is also very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 metres (20 ft) horizontally and jump up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) vertically. Leopards produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows and "sawing" sounds.
Leopards are generally solitary except when mating and when a female is
accompanied by cubs. They are primarily nocturnal, but are sometimes seen moving
during daylight hours in areas where there is little human disturbance or in
areas where they have become used to human presence.
They are not dependant on water as they absorb required moisture from their
prey, but will drink if water is available. Leopards excellent camouflage means it can get close to its prey without being spotted.
The status of the leopard in sub-Saharan Africa has been a matter of controversy since 1973, when it was first listed on CITES Appendix I due to fear about the impact of the then considerable international trade in leopard skins. However several studies have proved that leopard population is not threatened. It is now classified as Near Threatened (NT) on CITES. This listing is for species or lower taxa that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status. This puts Kenya's leopards at a fairly low risk for extinction. Until now, the true population of leopards in sub Saharan Africa is not known.
Leopard becomes more vulnerable to exploitation and population fragmentation.
The fur trade was a major threat to the leopard in some areas in Africa during the 1960s and 1970s, before the market collapsed due to changing public opinion and the imposition of international trade controls under CITES. Poaching for the fur trade substantially reduced the leopard population in Kenya. Between 1968-69 about 30,000 leopards were killed in East Africa through poisoned baiting and hunting
However, many studies and models also indicated that even very high offtakes, of the order of 61,000 animals a year, had produced only a slight decline in the total Sub-Saharan population. It is generally considered that leopards are resilient to harvest up to a critical threshold, which varies with density.