In areas where game drives are regularly conducted in open vehicles, leopard - generally shy and illusive animals -can become quite accepting of the presence of the vehicles and their occupants – a process known as habituation. Whilst this affords guests the wonderful opportunity of seeing these impressive animals up close, the driver / operator of the vehicle must exercise discretion and due caution. There have been a number of incidents of late where leopard have jumped up onto vehicles and mauled / bitten occupants. Whilst these may be regarded as exceptions to the rule the onus is on the guide / operator to act responsibly, with the well being of his guests as well as that of the animals uppermost in his mind. Showing off and bravado, which might end up being at the expense of the guests and the animal, is unprofessional and should not be tolerated.
Leopard parental care.
Leopard cubs are born after a gestation period of about 100 days. The young are born blind and their eyes only open 6 – 10 days after birth. The female will carry the young cubs (average litter size of three) to a new location of safety every second or third day to avoid predators. The mother will initiate weaning after about 42 days when she begins regurgitating food for them. Hamilton (1981) in his studies on leopard stated that cubs are completely weaned by the third month and will begin accompanying the mother on hunting forays by the time they are four months old. They will stay with the mother until they are about 18 - 22 months old. They will then move off to establish their own lives but periodic reunions between a mother and her offspring are marked by a show of obvious affection. The male does not generally play any significant role in the rearing of cubs.
In the images above we see a female and two sub adult cubs. Females are very protective of their young and will even take on an adult male in defence of her cubs. Note female with blind right eye that was damaged in a fight with a territorial male whilst protecting her cubs. The male was not the father.