Spotted, stealthy and solitary.
These are three key characteristics that aid leopards to survive in the wild. The big cat has adapted to a wide range of habitats across the country — from forests and grasslands to plantations. As human habitation expands, encounters with leopards in urbanised landscapes have increased as well. A masterful climber, a leopard can leap from one tree to another to bring down prey. It spends a large amount of time hiding amongst the trees, leading an elusive and shy lifestyle.
However, a leopard needs to communicate its presence, territory, and availability to mate with fellow leopards. For a brief period of time, a male and a female associate with one another for courtship purposes. Female leopards may drop several hints during the oestrous cycle to alert the male so that he can trace her presence. A mother leopard also communicates with her cubs to establish a bond and teach them survival skills while she can! Additionally, communication between leopards helps them ward off or alarm other predators that co-exist in their habitat.
This otherwise lone creature does announce its presence in several ways. Let’s find out how!
Leopards most frequently announce their presence by marking their area while patrolling. They communicate this by leaving their scent as a chemical cue to indicate their territory and even reproductive availability. Scents may be deposited on vegetation or the ground in the form of urine or anal sac secretions. It may vary from a powerful, musky scent to a subtle odour.
To leave a mark, leopards tend to rub their cheeks against objects. The scent is released through the scent glands present in their cheeks. Sometimes, spraying secretions are accompanied by scraping of the ground for which leopards use their hind limbs. One can also spot leopards leaving claw marks on tree trunks, which deposit secretions from their interdigital glands. Dropping faeces is also considered an effective way of scent marking!
When encountered by these scents, a fellow leopard may sniff and display a flehmen response, a grimace-like expression that animals make by curling their upper lip with tongues protruding from their mouths. The scent molecules travel from their tongue to the Jacobson’s organ of their olfactory system — enabling them to detect and register the odour.
Being a carnivore, the wild leopard must mark its territory as its home and target range. Scent marking by secretions and scratchings, as mentioned above, is one of the most significant ways they establish their area. Visuals and scents are left for other leopards, who then avoid intruding on that territory. In fact, African leopards are known to undertake ‘marking tours’ and they revisit their marked sites to reinstate them every ten days!
Vocal cues are another way the species announce their territory and avoid any conflict with fellow beings. Distinctive calls produced by leopards to communicate are ‘sawing’, ‘coughing’ or ‘rasping’. These calls can be heard from a distance of three kilometres!
Animals in the natural world have vocal organs that emit a myriad of acoustics. They are not just a composition of sounds, but also carriers of information. Leopards are no exception to this!
Their repertoire comprises various calls — each is unique and serves a function. Like other big cats such as lions and tigers, leopards roar too. While male leopards roar to defend their territory, females roar to attract the attention of males or call their cubs. Each leopard has a distinctive call that sounds like sawing wood, and these sawing calls are unique to each individual. They use this call to let other leopards know of their territory, and as communication between males and females.
Sounds of chuffs or puffs are generally emitted by leopards during friendly encounters, while growls, snarls, spits, and hisses indicate aggression. A relaxed and content leopard may purr, similar to a domestic cat. When a mother leopard and her cubs communicate with one another, they use soft sounds like grunts and mews.
At Wildlife SOS
Wildlife SOS Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre situated in Maharashtra is home to many rescued Indian leopards. These leopards have mostly been rescued from conflict-based situations and rehabilitated at our centre for lifelong care and treatment. To replicate the natural habitat of these leopards, our team has strategized several measures. One of them is to allow leopards to communicate with one another through scent marking and vocalisations.
Our team of caregivers has installed numerous trees, logs, and dense vegetation in their spacious fields. These enable our leopards to display their natural behaviours — be it scratching wooden logs or spraying urine on tree trunks. This not only helps them communicate with other leopards, but also assists them to establish their own territories.
You can support the care of our leopards by becoming a monthly sponsor.