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Climbing Skills/Spoor

Leopard climbing skills
Leopard are accomplished tree climbers scaling any tree with consummate ease – sometimes with an impala or warthog in their mouths which attests to the tremendous strength of these animals. They often wedge their kills into the branches of a tree where they can eat in peace without being harassed by other predators or scavengers. In the sequence above the leopard is seen scaling a large strangler fig in the early morning. They climb with fast fluid movements as their razor sharp claws bite into the trunk to give them purchase. The observant tracker will see the claw marks on the trunk of a tree that has been climbed by a leopard.

On the elevated platform the leopard feels safe from other predators such as lion and hyaena, and can rest undisturbed. It also has a good view of the surrounding area. An additional benefit is that it is generally cooler up in the boughs of a shady tree. The photo above left shows a hot day in December and the leopard already appears to be getting hot and cooling itself by panting. Leopard do not have sweat glands and panting is a thermoregulatory (meaning temperature controlling) mechanism used to dissipate excess body heat. Note the whisker patterns which can also be used as a means to identify individuals.

The beautiful coat with it’s pattern of rosettes is well illustrated in these two /images. It is no wonder that leopard skin coats were at one time very fashionable and sought after by wealthy women. Fortunately this has been strongly discouraged and nowadays any person wearing a real leopard skin coat would attract uncomplimentary or even derogatory comments. This leopard also appears to be in excellent condition.

The level of relaxation is evident in these two /images which speak for themselves. Note how the pattern of rosettes gives way to spots on the lower legs and the tail. The pads of the leopard which leave a distinctive track can be seen on the right and enlarged in the /images below.

Leopard spoor
Leopard have characteristic spoor. In the top image of the left front paw, the foot anatomy is clearly illustrated. The claws are usually sheathed and not visible although in this particular image the claw does appear to be protruding from the second digit. The track registers the four digits (toes) and there is no indication of claws (also absent in lion tracks but visible in the tracks of cheetah and hyaena). The pad is distinctively three lobed (as are those of lion and cheetah) which differs from the two lobes of hyaena. The track is smaller and more rounder than that of lion and hyaena. Cheetah have a very elongated track.