Leopard (Panthera pardus) are familiar to most people in terms of what they look like. Their whole demeanour is one of stealth and cunning. The spots differ from those of cheetah in that they are arranged in rosettes. Leopard are extremely efficient hunters and make maximum use of vegetation and the lie of the land to stalk up close to there intended prey before a final rush of awesome speed and focused determination. Their stalking posture is one of minimum profile with the belly almost touching the ground as they approach fluid like towards their prey. Ears are flattened and the head and tail held low. They crouch motionless while their prey look up and will resume the stalk only once the animal looks away. In the final rush of generally 10m or less the leopard rushes in and pulls the prey down with the five sharp, hooked claws on each forepaw. The leopard will often roll onto it’s back under it’s prey and rake the abdomen with it’s hind claws.
The killing bite is directed to the top of the head, nape of the neck or in the case of animals with horns, to the throat.
Bites to the nape of the neck or top of the head can be immediately fatal if fangs pierce the brain or break the neck. If the target area is the throat the leopard will hang on for a few minutes to strangle the animal. In the above sequence the leopard is seen killing a warthog. Warthog are incredibly strong animals and it is an indication of the strength of the leopard, which weighs between 65 - 85kg, that it can pull down an animal in excess of it’s own body mass. Not only that but the ability of leopard to often hoist their prey up into a tree further attests to their power and agility. Note too that the leopard is careful to avoid the razor sharp tusks of the warthog, which could cause a serious, if not ultimately fatal wound, should it get in the way. The warthog will also emit ear-piercing squeals of alarm as the leopard pounces on it.
The leopard now drags the warthog away from the ambush sight. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly other predators and scavengers like hyaena will have been attracted to the area by the sound of the warthogs alarm calls and will hasten to come and investigate. Secondly as can be seen from the photographs it is in an exposed area, which would make it more visible to circling vultures. Thirdly, leopard will often eviscerate their prey before beginning to feed on it. The sight and smell of the viscera will also attract scavengers. Fourthly the leopard will choose to feed in a cooler spot out of direct sun.
Here the leopard is in dappled shade that it not only finds more comfortable but also hides it and it’s prey more effectively from circling vultures. Although species the size of impala make up about 78% of a leopards diet they have been known to pull down adult kudu (Mitchell et al. 1965), and even blue wildebeest (Schaller, 1972) although these observations should be regarded more as an exception than the rule. Leopard will also readily catch smaller prey such as hares, dassies, fish and even mice to supplement their diet.