Known for their magnificent golden, speckled bodies and graceful hunting techniques, the Indian Leopard is a bewitching majesty in its own, right? Unfortunately, human intrusion such as habitat encroachment, rapid urbanization, and man-animal conflict has stripped them of their natural habitat. As we work together to help conserve the natural habitat and population of this marvellous big cat, there are a few lessons we humans can learn from the pages in their book:
1. How to make the best of your skills: Leopards are one of few felines who don’t require any assistance climbing or descending trees. Their powerful back legs are designed to propel them into higher altitudes and their low centre of gravity and relatively compact body size help regulate balance. Using this unique feature to their advantage, leopards often stalk their prey from tall trees and haul their kills up into the branches to keep them safe from scavengers.
2. Nothing stronger than the maternal instincts of a single mother: Adult males and females only come together briefly during mating season and then go their separate ways, leaving the female leopards to raise the new cubs alone. Once a leopardess gives birth, she fights against all odds to protect her little ones. She hides them from plain sight, even moving them from one safe location to the next until they are old enough to begin playing and learn to hunt. The children drink milk from their mother for four months and begin practising their own skills from eight months under her guidance. When the cubs are about two years old they embark on their solitary quest, but the maternal bonds remain strong and offsprings sometimes have heartfelt reunions with their mothers.
3. Weight is just a number: Leopards are known for using their superior intellect to prey on animals up to three times their own body weight. Despite not being large in stature, leopards can run up to 36 mph, leap 20 feet in one bound and jump 10 feet off the ground. However, researchers have witnessed camouflaged leopards edge toward their prey with a slow, deliberate gait to approach as close as 13 feet without detection.
4. The fine art of courtship: The female leopard is a master charmer. They have an elusive approach to invite a male to mate. The female leaves a scent on the trees in her territory by rubbing her body against them in order to draw male leopards towards it and hear her mating call. To indicate their readiness for mating, females also close in on the male and sway in front of him, swat him in the face with her tail while emitting a low rumbling growl.
5. Trust your guts: Leopards are experts at tapping into intuition. Their animal instinct keeps them safe, even if it means leaving their hard-earned dinner unattended while they bolt to safety. They use their expert night vision and superior sense of smell and hearing to keep themselves alert at all times.
Since 2007, Wildlife SOS has been working with the Maharashtra Forest Department to contribute to the conservation of the imperilled Indian leopard population on one of the most heavily human-populated and dominated landscapes in the world.
Wildlife SOS also reaches out to local communities to increase understanding about leopards. The goal is to help people co-exist with leopards with increased tolerance and to diminish fears that have manifested due to ignorance and misconceptions about these magnificent cats.
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