YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
If you’re superstitious, a black cat might make you nervous.
But these black cats are intimidating for a whole different set of reasons.
Hunting by the dark of night and capable of climbing trees, they stealthily slip through the shadows, mainly doing as they please.
This week, we’re talking about the lithe and lethal black leopard!
Black leopards are found mainly in Southwestern China, Burma, Nepal, Southern India, Indonesia, and the southern part of Malaysia.
However, they're popular animals in zoos and big cat exhibits.
So you might find them available to view near you!
Black leopards aren't a distinct species. Instead, they're a melanistic (or darker coloured) version of the more common light-coloured leopards.
The black colour isn't actually pure black.
Their spotted pattern appears underneath and can be seen in the right light.
While they're one of the smaller big cats, they are quite long, reaching between 37 and 65 inches and standing up to 31 inches tall at the shoulder.
Males are much bigger than females, and can weigh up to 200 pounds.
Unlike many animals with distinct mating seasons, mama leopards have cubs year-round—typically in twos or threes.
These cubs will spend the first week of their life with their eyes closed.
They'll hang around mom for up to two years, until she's entirely sure they're ready to fend for themselves.
If they survive the first year, these majestic cats will typically live between 12 and 15 years in the wild.
Leopards have been known to live more than 20 years in zoos or cat centres!
While all black leopards are carnivorous and capable hunters, the times they prefer to hunt depends on their location.
West African leopards who live in the rainforest are most active during the day.
Most other black leopards are nocturnal, using the cover of night and their dark fur to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.
Capable of taking down animals that weigh up to 10 times more than themselves, they'll snack on everything from tiny mice to large antelope!
Even more impressive, their strong muscles allow them to climb trees with their kill, keeping their meals safe from other big cats or scavengers such as hyenas.
Manywill spend their downtime loungingcomfortably in the treetops even when they're not eating.
As solitary animals, the only time you'll see them hunt in packs is when a mother is training her young.
Otherwise, they are quite territorial and don't like to share their hunting areas with other black leopards.
They will, however, often share territorywith tigers or lions as these other big cats aren't able toclimb trees and steal their food.
Leopards—black or otherwise—are endangered or threatened in most of their natural habitats due to fur trading and the loss of their preferred trees.
However, conservation efforts are going well to help protect these big, beautiful cats.
Black leopards are sometimes called black panthers. However, this is just a name—there is no single species of cat known as a panther.
Instead, the name scientifically refers to both black leopards and jaguars and is often used more casually to refer to any wildcat with a dark coat.
Don’t let their size fool you. Black leopards are very agile and can run at speeds of more than 58 kph (36 mph) and leap more than 20 feet horizontally when ambushing their prey.
As covered by Smithsonian Magazine, researchers have discovered that black leopards’ dark colouring is part of why they’re so anti-social. A lack of markings makes it much harder for these cats to communicate with others, unlike their siblings with lighter coats.
Despite their large size, leopards can purr just like our smaller household cats! They’re also known to growl, roar, and use a range of coughing noises to announce their presence to other leopards and ward off territorial intruders.
Meet Kahn, one of the black leopards at the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary near Johannesburg, South Africa.