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Leopard - Panthera pardus
Topic Started: Mar 11 2012, 02:56 PM (12,093 Views)
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Leopard - Panthera pardus

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Temporal range: Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene to Recent

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: Panthera pardus

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Range of the leopard, former (red), present (green), and uncertain (yellow)

The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the Tiger, Lion, and Jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a "Near Threatened" species on the IUCN Red List.

Compared to other members of the Felidae family, the leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It is similar in appearance to the Jaguar, but is smaller and more slightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the Jaguar, but the leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed, and do not usually have central spots as the Jaguars do. Both leopards and Jaguars that are melanistic (completely black or very dark) are known as black panthers.

The species' success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic hunting behavior, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), its unequaled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains.

Leopards are agile and stealthy predators. Although smaller than other members of the Panthera genus, they are able to take large prey due to their massive skulls that facilitate powerful jaw muscles. Head and body length is between 95 and 165 cm (37 and 65 in), and the tail reaches 60 to 110 cm (24 to 43 in). Shoulder height is 45 to 80 cm (18 to 31 in). The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhance their ability to climb trees. They are very diverse in size. Males are about 30% larger than females, weighing 30 to 91 kg (66 to 200 lb) compared to 23 to 60 kg (51 to 130 lb) for females. Large males of up to 91 kg (200 lb) have been documented in Kruger National Park in South Africa; however, males in the South Africa's coastal mountains average 31 kg (68 lb) and the females from the desert-edge in Somalia average 23 to 27 kg (51 to 60 lb). This wide variation in size is thought to result from the quality and availability of prey found in each habitat. The most diminutive leopard subspecies overall is the Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr), from deserts of the Middle East, with adult females of this race weighing as little as 20 kg (44 lb).

Other large subspecies, in which males weigh up to 91 kg (200 lb), are the Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) and the Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana). The largest verified leopards weighed 96.5 kg (213 lb). Larger sizes reported are considered unreliable. The leopard's body is comparatively long, and its legs are short.

Leopards show a great diversity in coat color and rosette patterns. Their rosettes are circular in East Africa but tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations. Their yellow coat tends to more pale and cream colored in desert populations, more gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats. Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter coloured and of a softer, downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along the face, limbs and underbelly.

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Leopards may sometimes be confused with two other large spotted cats, the Cheetah, with which it may co-exist in Africa, and the Jaguar, a neotropical species that it does not naturally co-exist with. However, the patterns of spots in each are different: the Cheetah has simple black spots, evenly spread; the Jaguar has small spots inside the polygonal rosettes; while the leopard normally has rounder, smaller rosettes than those of the Jaguar. The Cheetah has longer legs and a thinner build that makes it look more streamlined and taller but less powerfully built than the leopard. The Jaguar is more similar in build to the leopard but is generally larger in size and has a more muscular, bulky appearance.

Variant coloration
Melanistic leopards are commonly called black panthers, a term that also applies to melanistic Jaguars. Pseudomelanism (abundism) also occurs in leopards. Melanism in leopards is inherited as a Mendelian, monogenic recessive trait relative to the spotted form. Pairings of black animals inter se have a significantly smaller litter size than other possible pairings. The black color is caused by recessive gene loci.

The black panther is common in the equatorial rainforest of Malaya and the tropical rainforest on the slopes of some African mountains such as Mount Kenya. Between January 1996 and March 2009, Indochinese leopards were photographed at 16 sites in the Malay Peninsula in a sampling effort of more than 1000 trap nights. Of 445 photographs of melanistic leopards taken, 410 came from study sites south of the Isthmus of Kra, where the non-melanistic morph was never photographed. These data suggest the near fixation of the dark allele in the region. The expected time to fixation of this recessive allele due to genetic drift alone ranged from about 1,100 years to about 100,000 years.

Melanism in leopards has been hypothesized to be causally associated with a selective advantage for ambush.

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In antiquity, a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a Lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name, which is a Greek compound of λέων leōn (lion) and πάρδος pardos (male panther). The Greek word is related to Sanskrit पृदाकु pṛdāku (snake, tiger, panther), and probably is derived from a Mediterranean language, such as Egyptian.

A panther can be any of several species of large felids: the term can refer to Cougars and Jaguars in the American continents; and everywhere else, to leopards.

The generic component of its modern scientific designation, Panthera pardus, is derived from Latin via Greek πάνθηρ (pánthēr). Folk etymology held that it was a compound of παν (pan, all) and θηρ (beast). However, it is believed instead to be derived from an Indo-Iranian word meaning "white-yellow, pale"; in Sanskrit, this word's reflex was पाण्डर pāṇḍara, which was derived from पुण्डरीक puṇḍárīka (tiger, among other things), then borrowed into Greek.

Taxonomy and evolution
Like all of the feline family, the Panthera genus has been subject to much alteration and debate, and the exact relations between the four species as well as the clouded leopard and snow leopard have not been effectively resolved.

The leopard was among the first animals named under the modern system of biological classification, since it was described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae. Linnaeus placed the leopard under the genus Felis as the binominal Felis pardus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most naturalists and taxonomists followed his example. In 1816, Lorenz Oken proposed a definition of the genus Panthera, with a subgenus Panthera using Linnaeus' Felis pardus as a type species. But most disagreed with his definition, and until the beginning of the 20th century continued using Felis or Leopardus when describing leopard subspecies. In 1916, Reginald Innes Pocock accorded Panthera generic rank defining Panthera pardus as species.

It is believed that the basal divergence amongst the Felidae family occurred about 11 million years ago. The last common ancestor of the Lion, Tiger, leopard, Jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard is believed to have occurred about 6.37 million years ago. Panthera is believed to have emerged in Asia, with ancestors of the leopard and other cats subsequently migrating into Africa. The researchers suggest that the snow leopard is most closely aligned with the Tiger, whereas the leopard possibly has diverged from the Panthera lineage subsequent to these two species, but before the Lion and Jaguar.

Results of phylogenetic analyses of chemical secretions amongst cats has suggested that the leopard is closely related to the Lion. Results of a mitochondrial DNA study carried out later suggest that the leopard is closely related to the snow leopard, which is placed as a fifth Panthera species, Panthera uncia.

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Fossil records
Fossil leopard bones and teeth dating from the Pliocene were found in Perrier in France, northeast of London, and in Valdarno in Italy. At 40 sites in Europe fossil bones and dental remains of leopards dating from the Pleistocene were excavated mostly in loess and caves. The sites of these fossil records range from near Lisbon, near Gibraltar, and Santander Province in northern Spain to several sites in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, in the north up to Derby in England, in the east to Přerov in the Czech Republic and the Baranya in southern Hungary.

Fossils of early leopard ancestors have been found in East Africa and South Asia from the Pleistocene of 2 to 3.5 Ma. The modern leopard is suggested to have evolved in Africa 470,000–825,000 years ago and radiated across Asia 170,000–300,000 years ago.

Distribution and habitat
Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring widely in eastern and central Africa, although populations have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Within sub-Saharan Africa, the species is still numerous and even thriving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared. But populations in North Africa may be extinct.

Data on their distribution in Asia are not consistent — populations in southwest and central Asia are small and fragmented; in the northeast, they are critically endangered; but in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and China, leopards are still relatively abundant. Of the species as a whole, its numbers are greater than those of other Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns.

Leopards live mainly in grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests. They are usually associated with savanna and rainforest, but leopards are exceptionally adaptable: in the Russian Far East, they inhabit temperate forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C (−13 °F).

Distribution of subspecies
Since Carl Linnaeus published his description of leopards in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae in 1758, as many as 27 leopard subspecies were subsequently described by naturalists from 1794 to 1956. In 1996, according to DNA analysis carried out in the 1990s, only eight subspecies are considered valid. Later analysis revealed a ninth valid subspecies, the Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr). Because of limited sampling of African leopards, this number might be an underestimation.

The nine subspecies recognised by IUCN are:

  • African leopard (P. p. pardus), (Linnaeus, 1758) — inhabits sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Indian leopard (P. p. fusca), (Meyer, 1794) — inhabits the Indian Subcontinent;
  • Javan leopard (P. p. melas), (Cuvier, 1809) — inhabits Java, Indonesia.
  • Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr), (Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833) — inhabits the Arabian Peninsula;
  • Amur leopard (P. p. orientalis), (Schlegel, 1857) — inhabits the Russian Far East, Korean Peninsula and Northeast China;
  • North Chinese leopard (P. p. japonensis), (Gray, 1862) — inhabits northern China;
  • Caucasian leopard (P. p. ciscaucasica), (Satunin, 1914), later described as Persian leopard (P. p. saxicolor), (Pocock, 1927) — inhabits central Asia: the Caucasus, Turkmenistan and northern Iran;
  • Indochinese leopard (P. p. delacouri), (Pocock, 1930) — inhabits mainland Southeast Asia;
  • Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya), (Deraniyagala, 1956) — inhabits Sri Lanka.

A morphological analysis of characters of leopard skulls implies the validity of two more subspecies:

  • Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana), (Valenciennes, 1856) — inhabits Western Turkey;
  • Balochistan leopard (P. p. sindica), (Pocock, 1930) — inhabits Pakistan, and possibly also parts of Afghanistan and Iran.

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Ecology and behavior
Leopards are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. They have primarily been studied in open savanna habitats, which may have biased common descriptions. Activity level varies depending on the habitat and the type of prey that they hunt. Radio-tracking and scat analysis in West Africa showed that rainforest leopards are more likely to be diurnal and crepuscular. Forest leopards are also more specialized in prey selection and exhibit seasonal differences in activity patterns.

Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although not as strong as some other big cats, such as the Tiger. They are 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. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and "sawing" sounds.

Social structure and home range
Home ranges of male leopards vary between 30 km2 (12 sq mi) and 78 km2 (30 sq mi), and of females between 15 to 16 km2 (5.8 to 6.2 sq mi). Virtually all sources suggest that males do have larger home ranges. There seems to be little or no overlap in territory among males, although overlap exists between the sexes; one radio-collar analysis in the Ivory Coast found a female home range completely enclosed within a male's.

Research in a conservation area in Kenya showed similar territory sizes and sex differential: 32.8 km2 (12.7 sq mi) average ranges for males, and 14 km2 (5.4 sq mi) for females.

In Nepal, somewhat larger male ranges have been found at about 48 km2 (19 sq mi), while female ranges at 17 km2 (6.6 sq mi); female home ranges decreased to 5 to 7 km2 (1.9 to 2.7 sq mi) when young cubs were present, while the sexual difference in range size seemed to be in positive proportion to overall increase.

Studies of leopard home range size have tended to focus on protected areas, which may have led to skewed data; as of the mid-1980s, only 13% of the leopard range actually fell within a protected area. However, significant variations in the size of home ranges have been suggested across the leopard's range. Research in Namibia that focused on spatial ecology in farmlands outside of protected areas revealed ranges that were consistently above 100 km2 (39 sq mi) with some more than 300 km2 (120 sq mi). Admitting that their data were at odds with others, the researchers found little or no sexual variation in the size of territories.

Aggressive encounters have been observed. Two of five males studied over a period of a year at a game reserve in South Africa died, both violently. One was initially wounded in a male–male territorial battle over a carcass; taken in by researchers, it was released after a successful convalescence only to be killed by a different male a few months later. A second was killed by another predator, possibly a spotted hyena. A third of the five was badly wounded in intraspecific fighting, but recovered.

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Hunting and diet
Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera species, and will eat anything from dung beetles to 900 kg (2,000 lb) male giant elands. Their diet consists mostly of ungulates and monkeys, but they also eat rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds (like the Vulturine Guineafowl), fish and sometimes smaller predators (such as bat-eared foxes, martens, and jackals). In at least one instance, a leopard has predated a sub-adult nile crocodile that was crossing over land. They stalk their prey silently, pounce on it at the last minute, and strangle its throat with a quick bite. In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of their prey, especially impala and Thomson's gazelles.

In the open savanna of Tsavo National Park, they kill more prey when hunting between sunset and sunrise. In Kruger National Park, males and females with cubs are more active at night. At least 92 prey species have been documented in their diet. They focus their hunting activity on locally abundant medium-sized ungulate species in the 20 to 80 kg (44 to 180 lb) range, while opportunistically taking other prey. Analysis of leopard scats found that 67% contained ungulate remains, of which 60% were impala, the most abundant antelope, with adult weights of 40 to 60 kg (88 to 130 lb). Small mammal remains were found most often in scats of sub-adult leopards, especially females. Average daily consumption rates was estimated at 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) for adult males and 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for females.

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In Asia, the leopard preys on deer such as chitals and muntjacs, as well as various Asian antelopes and ibex. Prey preference estimates in southern India showed that the most favored prey of the leopard were chitals. A study at the Wolong Reserve in China revealed how adaptable their hunting behaviour is. Over the course of seven years, the vegetative cover receded, and the animals opportunistically shifted from primarily consuming tufted deer to pursuing bamboo rats and other smaller prey.

They select their prey focusing on small herds, dense habitat, and low risk of injury, preferring prey weights of 10 to 40 kg (22 to 88 lb) such as impala, chital, bushbuck and common duiker with an average body weight of 25 kg (55 lb).

In search of safety, leopards often stash their young or recent kills high up in a tree, which can be a great feat of strength considering that they may be carrying prey heavier than themselves in their the mouth while they climb vertically. One leopard was seen to haul a young giraffe, estimated to weigh up to 125 kg (280 lb), about 2–3 times the weight of the leopard, up 5.7 m (19 ft) into a tree.

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Interspecific predatory relationships
Leopards must compete for food and shelter with other large predators such as Lions, Tigers, spotted hyenas, and both African and Asiatic wild dogs. These animals may steal the leopard's kill, devour its young or even kill adult leopards, although Lions are most likely to kill and not eat young leopards if they are discovered. In some areas of Africa, troops of large baboon species (potentially leopard prey themselves) will kill and sometimes eat leopard young if they discover them. Occasionally, Nile crocodiles may predate on leopards. Leopards co-exist alongside these other predators by hunting for different types of prey and by avoiding areas frequented by them. Lions are occasionally successful in climbing trees and fetching leopard kills. In the Kalahari desert, leopards frequently lose kills to the brown hyena, if the leopard is unable to move the kill into a tree. Single brown hyenas have been observed charging at and displacing male leopards from kills.

Resource partitioning occurs where leopards share their range with Lions or Tigers. Leopards tend to take smaller prey, usually less than 75 kg (170 lb), where the larger cats are present. In the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, leopards killed prey ranging from less than 25 kg (55 lb) to 100 kg (220 lb) in weight with most kills in the 25–50 kg (55–110 lb) range; Tiger killed more prey in the 50–100 kg (110–220 lb) range. In the tropical forests of India’s Nagarhole National Park, Tigers selected prey weighing more than 176 kg (390 lb), whereas leopards selected prey in the 30–175 kg (66–390 lb) range. The average weights of leopard prey was 37.6 kg (83 lb), and of Tiger prey was 91.5 kg (202 lb) with a bias towards adult males of chital, sambar and wild pig, and young gaur. In tropical forest they do not always avoid the larger cats by hunting at different times. With relatively abundant prey, Tigers and leopards seem to successfully coexist without competitive exclusion or inter-species dominance hierarchies that may be more common to the leopard's co-existence with the Lion in savanna habitats. In areas with high Tiger populations, such as in the central parts of India’s Kanha National Park, leopards are not permanent residents, but transients. They were common near villages at the periphery of the park and outside the park.

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Reproduction and life cycle
Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round. In Manchuria and Siberia, they mate during January and February. The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4 cubs. But mortality of cubs is estimated at 41–50% during the first year.

Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in color with less defined spots. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18–24 months.

Leopards have been reported to reach 21 years of age in captivity.

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"Strawberry" Leopard Discovered—A First
Rare animal likely has genetic condition that changes fur pigment.

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The pink-hued leopard wanders South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve.

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
Published April 12, 2012

A leopard can't change its spots, but apparently it can change its color.

African leopards normally have tawny coats with black spots. But a male leopard with a strawberry-colored coat has been spotted in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve, conservationists announced this week.

Tourists in the reserve had occasionally seen the unusual animal. But it wasn't until recently that photographer and safari guide Deon De Villiers sent a photograph to experts at Panthera, a U.S.-based wild cat-conservation group, to ask them about the leopard's odd coloration.

Panthera President Luke Hunter suspects the pale leopard has erythrism, a little-understood genetic condition that's thought to cause either an overproduction of red pigments or an underproduction of dark pigments.

"It's really rare—I don't know of another credible example in leopards," said Hunter, whose group collaborates with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.

Hunter added, "it's surprising that [a photo of the leopard] didn't come out sooner, because he's relatively used to vehicles."

Strawberry Leopard Still Successful

Erythrism is very unusual in carnivores, and the condition appears most often in raccoons, Eurasian badgers, and coyotes, Hunter noted.

"There are some spotted leopard skins and melanistic specimens—black panthers—in museums with red undertones, but fading probably contributes to that," he said.

Melanism is an unusual development of black or nearly black color in an animal's skin, fur, or plumage.

The strawberry leopard seems healthy and likely suffers no ill consequences from his pinkish hue, Hunter said: "He's obviously a successful animal."

For instance, the leopard's coat still offers him some camouflage—leopards rely on their spotted fur to sneak up on prey and ambush them from as close as 13 feet (4 meters) away.

More worrisome for the strawberry leopard are the game farms that surround the Madikwe reserve, Hunter said.

If the animal were to leave the reserve, he'd lose the strict protection offered by Madikwe and become fair game for legal trophy hunting, Hunter said.

"It's the fate of a lot of leopards."

Edited by Taipan, Apr 13 2012, 06:05 PM.
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Amur Leopard: The Cat That Should Have Died

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© RIA Novosti.
14:54 18/09/2012
BARABASH/MOSCOW, September 18 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti)

It all began when then-Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov saw a movie about leopards.
“We’d be nowhere without him,” said Yury Darman of World Wildlife Fund Russia, who spent a decade trying to save the Amur leopard, the rarest of leopard subspecies.
“It’s really about Ivanov, not the leopard,” Darman said. “The leopard was here forever, but then Ivanov came along.”
The educational film, Save Each of the Survivors!, which Ivanov saw in 2010, prompted the man once tipped to be President Vladimir Putin’s successor to lobby for the creation of the world’s only nature reserve for the near-extinct big cat.
Now the leopards, which reside in a less than ideal location for an endangered species to live in, have a shot at surviving, ecologists say.
But they still face plenty of dangers, including wildfires, hungry tigers, a shrinking gene pool and marines with hunting rifles.
Also threatening their survival are things that big cats usually do not have to deal with, like rural poverty, the state of Russian exports and even the shortcomings of the country’s youth policy.
At least there were 13 leopard cubs born last year, up from zero in 2001, Darman said.

The Last of the Leopards

“In theory, the Amur leopard should have died out a decade ago,” said Sergei Khokhryakov, deputy director of the Land of the Leopard national park which is home to the last 40 to 50 Amur leopards. “There is some factor we underestimate or don’t understand about it.”
The far eastern leopard, one of nine subspecies of Panthera pardus across the globe, once ranged as far as Beijing in the west and the coast of the Sea of Japan in the east, as well as throughout the Korean peninsula.
Now all it has left is an area some 400 square kilometers wide, mostly in Russia’s Primorye region – a tiny blotch on the world map.
The Amur leopard was placed on a protected species list as early as 1956, but the ban was hard to enforce. Border guard officers wanting to transfer from the Far East to some less remote place were rumored to be charged two leopard skins by their superiors, environmentalists say.
By the early 2000’s, only some 30 leopards remained in the wild, including only five fertile females. Some 200 Amur leopards live in captivity, but most are descendants of only two males, which increases the risks of inbreeding and its inherent health problems.
“When I first came here, I didn’t want to work on the leopard at all,” Darman said. “I thought it was a lost cause.”
Khokhryakov said he felt the same, but then national pride kicked in. “How come we can send stuff to Mars but not save a species at home?” he asked.

Bad Neighborhood

The Khasan district, the last refuge of the Amur leopard, is not really a good place for a far-ranging reclusive cat thriving on roe deer and the occasional dog.
A closed military zone in Soviet times, the district saw its economy virtually ruined when the army pulled out after the USSR’s perestroika reforms, leaving kilometers of empty barracks.
Left unemployed, many locals turned to poaching just to feed their families. Professional poachers also emerged, butchering salmon for caviar, boiling frogs for fat, a precious commodity in China, and inflicting other damage on local food chains that are topped by leopards and tigers.
Some poachers specifically targeted leopards, though they are now “over and done with,” Darman said with a scowl.
The locals also use fire as a primary means of clearing stubble in fields, not bothering too much if it spreads to the forest afterwards, threatening the cats’ habitat.
Even the Ivanov-backed nature reserve burned unhindered for days this spring, said WWF employee Andrei Fereferov.
He saved the day back then by raising a media fuss, which prompted the regional authorities to dispatch enough people and equipment to swiftly put out the fire. That was despite earlier claims that they had no resources for the job.
In some places, the local economy actually thrived: a railway and a federal highway pass through the area, serving both a stream of tourists heading for the beaches in the district's south and an inflow of goods to local ports.
At its peak, the traffic is 11 cars per minute, which makes it almost impossible for animals to safely cross the road. Even a tigress died under the wheels three years ago, and though no leopards have been hit, a lot of their prey is becoming roadkill, diminishing the food base.
Construction of a gas pipeline to China across the district is also underway. And that's not to mention the three firing ranges and the legal hunting grounds that the military, including the marines of the Pacific Fleet, has kept here and puts to active use.
“The fleet petitioned to not include the hunting grounds in the reserve because it's needed for the 5,000 sailors and their wives and children,” said Svetlana Titova, who oversees protected areas at WWF Russia’s far eastern branch.
“They claimed that otherwise the combat efficiency of the Pacific Fleet will be compromised,” she said.
Another threat is the Amur tiger, also an endangered species, which is not above killing or maiming a leopard in a territorial dispute.
“The job would have been a thousand times easier had the leopard been anywhere else in the region,” said Khokhryakov, who himself previously worked to save the Amur tiger in the Lazovsky nature reserve elsewhere in Primorye.

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Cat Man to the Rescue

The original nature reserve in the area, Kedrovaya Pad, spanned a mere 18,000 hectares and had a budget of just 7 million rubles ($230,000).
Environmentalists have spent years campaigning to have it expanded. “I've made enemies of everyone in these parts,” said Darman, himself a native of Irkutsk in eastern Siberia.
Indeed, the local press is full of stories vehemently attacking the leopard backers, who are accused of seeking to obtain land for personal gain, and squeezing out longtime residents – a claim they indignantly dismiss.
Only the interference of Ivanov, now the chief of Kremlin staff, made it possible to overrule the resistance of local authorities and communities and set up a national park spanning 262,000 hectares.
“Putin's protecting tigers, so Ivanov showed subordination and picked a smaller animal!” an environmental activist quipped, referring to President Vladimir Putin's much-publicized involvement in saving the Amur tigers, some 500 of whom now live in the wild.
There is an alternative explanation. “He's just a cat person!” said Titova of WWF.
The total protected area is set to span 370,000 hectares by the year's end. Combined with 320,000 hectares of nature reserves on the Chinese side of the border, this will provide enough land for some 100 to 120 leopards – enough to ensure the immediate survival of the subspecies, experts say.
But a separate reserve population is needed to ensure the leopards are not wiped out by some epidemics, nature park deputy director Khokhryakov said. Work is underway, with a program awaiting sanction from Moscow.
Gun Under the Pillow
The Land of the Leopard houses more than 80 landowners, including several rural settlements and the Pacific Fleet marines and their firing range. Most of the inhabitants are armed, and unhappy at finding themselves residents of a national park.
“I've slept with a handgun under my pillow for three years,” said Khokhryakov, who used to head the nature reserve until a Moscow-ordered reshuffle this month.
More than 430 administrative offences have been recorded in connection with violations of the park in its first year alone, he said.
The WWF has launched an extensive education campaign for locals, printing out leaflets for each of the 30,000-plus district residents and making schools choose a leopard to “adopt.”
In the mid-2000’s, most locals polled by the WWF said they would shoot a leopard upon meeting it, but now the only deaths are accidental, with cats shot when mistaken for other game, Titova said.
The district has formidable potential for eco-tourism, but all it has to offer for now is an improvised “eco-track” complete with faded laminated photographs of plants and taiga wildlife, and wooden animals carved by inmates of a local prison.
Khokhryakov, who now oversees tourism at the reserve, is dismissive of regional officials’ attention to tourism development, which does not make his job any easier. “All they care about is how to stock the bar,” he says.

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Money Doesn't Save Leopards

Anatoly Belov, declared the world’s best ranger by none other than Britain’s Prince Philip in 2010, works in the Land of the Leopard.
Working on a nature reserve is not lucrative. Khokhryakov recalled how he used to feed his family in Soviet times on tiger meat confiscated from poachers (“tastes like veal,” he said).
Rangers at the Land of the Leopard earn an average 17,000-18,000 rubles ($550-580) a month, a reasonable income for the Russian countryside.
They also get various monetary bonuses and are granted overseas trips, said Sergei Bereznyuk of the Phoenix fund, a local charity that supports the reserve with money and the occasional quad bike.
Still, most of the personnel are enthusiastic professionals who are not in for the money, both Darman and Khokhryakov said.
But enthusiasm for the mission is in short supply outside the Land of the Leopard.
The WWF used to run seven “leopard's friends groups” stocked with local teens and college students, but now, there are only enough people for three, said Titova.
“The kids just don't care anymore,” she said.
The adults are not much better. The annual budget of the nature reserve stands at 90 million rubles – under $3 million, a fraction of the $22 billion price tag for the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Primorye.
About 40 million rubles comes from the state, thanks to Ivanov's lobbying. Otherwise, most prominent donors are not Russian citizens or companies, but Britons and Germans, Darman said.
“Only the government can save a species,” he said. “Public groups can only do odd jobs.”
Titova pointed that the WWF has been doing the government's job for years.
Creating a second leopard population will cost an estimated $10 million, experts estimate. Nobody can say where the money will come from.
There are five more nature reserves and two national parks in the region, many of them bigger than the Land of the Leopard, but also underfunded and understaffed. Unfortunately for the animals there, they have no films to show to big beasts in government.

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Rare Picture: Male Leopard Kills, Eats Cub
Though relatively common, infanticide is rarely witnessed in nature.

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The male leopard Mmolai was recently photographed eating a cub in Botswana's Okavango Delta.

Photograph courtesy Ryan Green

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The mother leopard Legadema carries away a second cub. Photograph courtesy Ryan Green.

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
Published April 22, 2013

A photographer in Botswana has captured rare pictures of a male leopard (Panthera pardus) killing and eating a cub.

In March in a remote part of the Okavango Delta (map), Ryan Green was tracking a well-known female leopard named Legadema, who had hid her weeks-old cubs in a large tree hollow.

He noticed Legadema moving around nervously when a male new to the area emerged from her den with a mewling cub in its mouth.

The interloper settled with the baby under the tree, playing with it and licking it in an "almost intimate, affectionate fashion," Green said in a statement.

But "what appeared to be a gentle, tender encounter was in fact far more sinister": The male, later named Mmolai—killer in the national language Setswana—was slowly eating the cub, said Green, of Wilderness Safaris in Mombo.

After the male leopard left, "not a trace of what had recently happened remained—not a drop of blood, a wisp of fur, nothing," said Green, who later photographed Legadema carrying away a second cub.

As "horrifying" as it seems, infanticide is relatively common in nature. It often occurs when a male takes over a new territory and kills the young to which it's not related, noted Luke Hunter, president of the big-cat conservation group Panthera, which collaborates with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.

Though well documented in African lions (Panthera leo), the practice is rarely photographed in big cats—making Green's series of pictures unique, Hunter said.

Cub Killers Explained

Hunter and colleagues have been studying leopard infanticide near South Africa's Kruger National Park for 13 years. In data recently submitted for publication, the team found that 45 of 280 dead leopard cubs the researchers recorded during that period were killed by male leopards.

Males claiming new territory have a "sound evolutionary reason" to kill cubs—it brings the mothers back into heat, allowing the males to sire their own cubs. "They can't afford to be stepdads," Hunter said.

It's unknown how the males know which cubs are their own—for instance, it's unlikely that the males recognize each baby by scent. More likely, he said, is that the males remember individual adult females and whether they've met before.

A mother would certainly try to defend her young from a strange male, but if he successfully takes over her territory, her efforts would only postpone the eventual killing, Hunter said.

However, Hunter emphasized that male leopards aren't always "murderous, rampaging, rogue animals."

Territorial leopard males interact with females and cubs a lot, forming long-term bonds, he said.

And once they have their own young, he said, they care for and defend the cubs against other males, making them "excellent fathers."

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Very Rare Leopards Caught On Camera

May 23, 2013
Jake Richardson

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Critically endangered Javan leopards have been caught on digital camera traps in West Java. If you have been following conservation news, you know that the Formosan Cloud Leopard was recently declared extinct. They were driven into extinction by human activities. So it is very important that the Javan leopards be protected or they may suffer the same fate.

(Javan leopard caught on camera trap from CIFOR stock footage library on Vimeo.)

Thirty cameras were placed in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park in West Java, by researcher Age Kridalaksana, from the Center for International Forestry Research. For about a month the cameras recorded images of local wildlife. Most of the animals documented by the cameras were deer, civets and birds. There were also three Javan leopards. These leopards are about one hundred pounds and the height and length of an American mountain lion.
There are probably less than 250 left in the wild, according to IUCN. Loss of habitat, poaching and loss of prey animals are contributing factors in their decline. All these factors are due to human activities.
About 2,000 hectares of rainforest a year are being lost each year due to industrial activities such as mining and land clearing for palm oil plantations. If you want to protect these leopards and their habitat, make sure to stop using products containing palm oil. (Boycotting palm oil will likely also help orangutans.)
Even within Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park 25% of the forested area was lost from illegal logging.
The huge city of Jakarta with 20 million people is just several hours from the park. Surely, these wild animals deserve to have some natural habitat protected and kept undeveloped.
The Center for International Forestry Research works to conserve natural forests and their wildlife. They also are study poor human communities and their relationship with natural habitats. Their work is some of the most important on Earth. What complements it the most is human population management. If the human population had not reached over seven billion, some of these very difficult situations would be less damaging.

Read more at http://planetsave.com/2013/05/23/rare-leopards-caught-on-camera/#dTkvs2rZ4ZEluE0R.99
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Spotted: 1st Evidence of a Leopard Eating a Chimp

Douglas Main, Staff Writer
Date: 24 May 2013 Time: 03:11 PM ET

Only rarely have people seen what happens when chimpanzees and leopards come into close quarters in the wilds of Africa. On these occasions, chimpanzees have made loud, fearful calls, or played the aggressor: In one case, chimps even surrounded a leopard den and killed a cub.

But the big-brained primates don't always win: For the first time, scientists have found evidence of a leopard eating a chimpanzee.

In Tanzania's Mahale Mountains National Park, researchers spent 41 days collecting African leopard scat from June to August 2012 (summer internship, anyone?). In one of the cat's "offerings," scientists found several chimpanzee patella and phalanges, corresponding to kneecaps and toe bones, respectively. DNA analysis showed that the bones came from an adult female chimp.

The researchers can't be entirely certain that the leopard hunted down the chimp, because the cats occasionally eat dead animals; in other words, it's possible the chimp keeled over and then became leopard chow. However, the finding has led scientists to re-examine three mysterious wounds incurred by three different chimps in Mahale over the last few years. The wounds were deeper than thought to be possible from fights with other chimps, which is what scientists previously thought had happened.

A 2009 study suggested that chimpanzees face only negligible pressure from predators. If it's indeed true that the leopard ate a live chimp, scientists may need to rethink this view and further examine how predation from leopards, or other animals, might have driven the chimpanzee's evolution, the researchers said. One study from 1993 found evidence of lions eating four chimpanzees, also in Mahale Mountains National Park. The park is one of the few places with ongoing research where the range of leopards and chimpanzees overlap, which helps explain why this was witnessed there.

The new research was published online May 21 in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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Baboons versus leopard

October 05, 2013 •

We find a heavily bleeding baboon in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park. His troop is making loud alarm calls. It turned out that the baboon had attacked the cub of a female leopard and the leopard had subsequently wounded the baboon.

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Our guide was convinced that the leopard would return once she had brought her cub into safety. We waited for a little over an hour and indeed he was right.

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The baboons were in vain trying to protect their friend.

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In the meantime a group of Zambian school kids on school excursion had arrived at the scene. While I was capturing the expressions of the kids one of the troop baboons bit in the tail of the leopard. A shot I missed but my 13 year old daughter captured it on video.

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^There's a video on the above website!
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Leopards as Taphonomic Agents in Dolomitic Caves—Implications for Bone Accumulations in the Hominid-bearing Deposits of South Africa

Darryl J. de Ruiter* and Lee R. Berger
Journal of Archaeological Science (2000) 27, 665–684

It has been hypothesised that leopards were significant contributors to the bone accumulations of the Plio-Pleistocene hominid-bearing caves of South Africa. Interpretations of leopard activity in these fossil caves were previously based upon reports of modern leopard behaviour in areas of southern Africa that were lacking in caves. In 1991 a leopard lair
with an accompanying bone accumulation was discovered in a dolomitic cave on the John Nash Nature Reserve, South Africa. All of the bones in this cave could be unambiguously attributed to the activity of one individual leopard over a 1-year period. The resulting bone assemblage indicates that, when available, leopards will preferentially utilise the
deep recesses of caves to the exclusion of trees when feeding, and that the size of prey leopards are capable of capturing, killing and transporting has previously been underestimated. The implications this may have for understanding the accumulation of fossils in the hominid-bearing caves of South Africa are that bones derived form leopards consuming prey in trees probably did not contribute significantly to the assemblages, and further that it is not necessary to invoke sabre-tooth cat involvement for the larger animals found in these assemblages. This modern cave probably represents a more appropriate model for the accumulation of bones in the fossil caves of the Sterkfontein Valley,and the assemblage is being continually monitored to view any and all taphonomic alterations that are occurring.

Kill Finds in Caves in different locations
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Leopard killing capacity
Although reports indicate that occasionally they do take large prey, leopards are thought to concentrate mainly on animals smaller than their own body size (Pienaar, 1969). In an exhaustive study of predation patterns in Kruger National Park during the periods 1936–1946 and 1954–1966, Pienaar (1969) noted that leopards killed numerous large animals. Table 3 shows that most of these larger animals were represented by juvenile or infant individuals weighing much less than the adult form (during the period February 1966– January 1968). Two adult waterbok (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) of unknown sex were taken; adult male waterboks weigh as much as 270 kg, while adult females are somewhat smaller and lighter (Skinner and Smithers, 1990). An adult wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), if male, would have weighed 250 kg, or 180 kg if female. Two adult Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) taken also fall into this similar weight category, with males weighing 250 kg, and females 200 kg. The largest buffalo (Syncerus caffer) taken was a juvenile of unknown size.
In spite of the leopards preference for relatively smaller prey animals, for example the large majority of Impala taken in Kruger (Table 3), larger prey are not as rare as may be thought. The adult female eland found in WU/BA-001 may represent the largest documented leopard kill in southern Africa. This animal, when alive would have weighed between 350 and 450 kg (Skinner & Smithers, 1990). The ability of leopards to kill and cache prey many times their own body weight would imply that perhaps we need not invoke the activity of sabre-tooth cats in the accumulation of the assemblages of bones found in the hominid bearing caves of South Africa.

Found this earlier, which relates to the above:

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Amur Leopard Cubs Spotted on Critter Cam in China

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | November 26, 2013 02:03pm ET

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An Amur leopard mama and cub trapped on camera in China

Two Amur leopard cubs were spotted on a wildlife camera in China, the first evidence that this critically endangered big cat is breeding in the region, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced today (Nov. 26).

The leopard cubs were seen with a female adult leopard at the Wangqing Nature Reserve in northeast China, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) away from the main Amur leopard population on the Russia-China border.

"This incredible find is important for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that our current efforts are paying off, but, secondly, it shows that China can no longer be considered peripheral to the fate of both wild Amur leopards and tigers," Joe Walston, the Wildlife Conservation Society's executive director for Asia Programs, said in a statement. "With a few key decisions by the government, China could become a major sanctuary for the species.”

Far Eastern or Amur leopards are the world's most endangered big cats, with between 30 and 50 individuals still roaming in the wild. Poaching and habitat loss have nearly wiped out the leopard in its native hunting grounds in China and Korea, but frigid temperatures and deep snow prevent the population from spreading further north. Now, the leopards cling to survival on a tiny sliver of habitat along the Russia-China border, from the Sea of Japan to China's Jilin Province.

The elusive cats were spotted earlier this week crossing the camera trap.

The camera traps that spotted the leopard cubs are just one element of a broad conservation effort to prevent the wild cats' extinction. Last year, similar camera traps spotted an Amur leopard in China for the first time.

Conservation groups are also working to improve law enforcement protections for the animals, as well as teaching local people how to keep their livestock safe from the predators to minimize conflicts. And in 2012, the Land of the Leopard National Park, a conservation area covering about 60 percent of the cat's habitat, was opened in Russia's Far East.

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New footage reveals family life of elusive Amur leopard

Posted on 30 January 2014 | 2 Comments

Vladivostok, Russia: Video footage released today of one of the most endangered species on the planet, the Amur leopard, provides vital information to help conservation efforts.

Camera trap footage from eastern Russia filmed in November and December of 2013 and made available this month, reveals how the highly endangered Amur leopard raises kittens in the wild as well as giving an insight into family behavior.

In November 2013, Land of the Leopard National Park and WWF started a joint project, “Leopard’s Reality Show”, installing 10 hidden camera traps near the remains of a sika deer.

The 78 hours of unique video material shows how the female Amur leopard, named Kedrovka, feeds her kittens with the sika deer, trains them, and resolves their disputes. She has three kittens, a rare occurrence for leopards. We see how kittens play and fight for meat, discover the world by studying birds, weasels, and mice, and experience first fears and pain.

“In the video we can see how the mother urges the weakest kitten to eat after the other two have abandoned the prey. But it is not as fussy as most human mothers, when the weakest kitten starts to limp on one paw and whines about it, the mother just ignores it”, said Vasily Solkin from WWF-Russia Amur branch, who compiled the footage.

Previously scientists believed that similar to a lion pride, leopards from one “family” ate prey together. However this footage shows that leopard kittens approach the deer in turns, with the strongest eating first and the weakest last.

This means that any leopard “meal” takes a long time, and the last kitten always has the smallest chance of being fed because a strange noise or other threat may force the leopards to move on and leave the kill.

This fact explains why female leopards sometimes choose to give attention only to two kittens, even if they give birth to three. Very often, the third or even the second kitten does not survive in the long term.

All information gathered about leopard upbringing is crucial for WWF conservation efforts. With few leopards left, they may be genetically too close and inbreeding may weaken their chances of survival.

There are plans in the science community to introduce new leopards into the wild by breeding leopards from zoos but to ensure that the program is successful, it is important to know how leopards are raised and taught hunting skills in the wild.

Amur leopards live in the northernmost part of the species range in far-eastern Russia. A Census in 2013 showed that there are 48 to 50 Amur leopards remaining in the wild, about 80 per cent of the species’ former range disappeared between 1970 and 1983.

Habitat destruction by unsustainable logging, forest fires and land conversion for farming infrastructure development are the main causes, while the species has also been hit hard by ungulate poaching. Ungulates are large, hoofed mammals and the main prey for Amur leopards.

Numbers are increasing from a few years ago when just 30 remained and WWF plans to keep this upward trend with extensive conservation measures. Every leopard has a unique pattern of spots, so experts can recognize almost every one of the remaining leopard by photo or video images.

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