The most isolated leopards in Africa are probably the few outstanding individuals - if they still exist - who once inhabited the mountains of North Africa, the Berber Leopard (Panthera pardus panthera) BAILEY 1993.
The leopard is a prudent, persistent and clever animal, which thanks to its versatility, better than any other big cat is able to live in proximity to humans. Leopards are very powerful predators and able to drag prey larger than himself into a tree (NOWAK, 2005). They can run more than 60 km per hour, jump over 6 m away, and 3 m high. Leopards are excellent climbers and are able to descend with the head downwards from a tree (Nowak, 2005). By virtue of its adaptability experts previously believed that the leopard could survive anywhere. Nowadays we are no longer so sure. The Leopard is in a large part of its extensive distribution range endangered or threatened (SEIDENSTICKER, 1992). This problem raises the following questions: What aspects of his physique, his behavior and other characteristics make the leopard so flexible? And why are they in some areas not succesfull, as they can adapt so well?
Depending on the part of the range where the leopard is found, the base color of its coat varies from a beautiful golden color to a pale yellow, ocher-like. orange-yellow-brown, light red and gray-yellow. On the back shows the color darker than on the flanks. The impression is that leopards who live in moist forests color darker than their counterparts in dry areas (POCOCK 1932, Lt. Harrison and BATES, 1991, HUNTER, 2011). Leopards often have black marks on their legs, flanks, abdomen and head and rosettes on the rest of the body. Black or melanistic leopards are ubiquitous in their complete range, although in one part more abundant than the other (SEIDENSTICKER, 1992). In Africa melanistic leopards are pretty rare, but in south India that's certainly not the case, and in Java and Malaysia are black leopards, with 50% share even very general (DANIEL, 1996; POCOCK, 1930;). In melanistic leopards are the spots and rosettes present but not visible. The staining pattern is individual and each makes any leopard fur recognizable by its drawing (SEIDENSTICKER, 1992).
Leopards typically have a body length of 1 to 1.5 meters, but there are examples who measured almost 2 meters. Males are significantly larger than females and a 30 to 50% heavier (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002). Adult males in the Kruger National Park in South Africa are on average 70% heavier and 10% longer than females (BAILEY, 1993). Leopards that live in more open landscapes are generally larger than leopards in more wooded areas. Adult leopards in the Cape Province in South Africa weighing 30.9kg of males and 21.2 kg of females belong to the smallest leopards, similar weights are measured by leopards in the desert of Judah (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002). On the savannah woodland of the Kruger N. P. in South Africa, two adult males weighing 70kg (Bailey, 1993). The heaviest of the weighted males in Africa had a weight of more than 90kg, but most of these animals had a full stomach which can mean an increase of 20% of the normal body weight (SUNQUIST AND SUNQUIST, 2002). The leopard males in the mountains of Iran and Central Asia are large with record weights of 90kg. (SUNQUIST AND SUNQUIST, 2002). Nothing is known about the stomach contents of these animals.
WILSON (1968) reported that a female weighting 43kg, had a stomach content of 6,6kg. That means that the gastric content amounted to 18% of the total weight (Bailey, 1993).
The shoulder height in adult males measures an average 65cm and 50cm in adult females. The perimeter of the head of an adult male with an average of 16cm and 13cm from a female (SEIDENSTICKER, 1991). Adult males have larger teeth and a well developed sagittal crest, in females this ridge is almost entirely lacking. Even in young males,the comb is lacking. Allowing confusing between the skull of a young male with those of females. When old, the male ridge flattens again. Also, the muscle mass of males is considerably larger (Bailey, 1993). The differences in physique between the sexes suggests that males and females show differences in food choices (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002).
It is usually the factors of food, cover and water, which limit a species in its distribution. But for leopards are the basic conditions especially spacious (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002).
In China and Russia live leopards often for long periods under extreme winter conditions with temperatures of -40 ° C., But deep snow makes it for the Amur leopard (P.p. orientalis) very difficult to hunt. The leopard in West Africa and Asia lives in tropical rainforests with a rainfall of 2.000 ml per year as well as in semi-desert with less than 50 ml of rainfall per year. They follow waterways far into the desert. In the Kalahari Desert has been established that leopards are able to survive for 10 days without water(and SUNQUIST SUNQUIST, 2009), but once there is water available, they drink regularly. In other hot deserts such as the Namib, Sahara and Sinai leopards use caves, dens and shade of bushes to withstand daytime temperatures of 70 ° C.(SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2009). The leopard lives in many types of often forested ecosystems, such as deciduous forests, acacia savannas, exotic coniferous plantations, hills and mountains up to 5000 m. Height (HUNTER, 2011). A very important element in their environment is the presence of structures like bushes to hide themselves and from which they can stalk their prey. SEIDENSTICKER (1992) has seen leopards pass through relatively open area. When stalking prey they use bushes, grasses and small pits. In the Kalahari Desert has been observed that a leopard in this way stalk prey over a distance of 275 meters.
The two main factors limiting this generalist, are presence and competition by other large predators and the presence of people. African leopards live alongside lions, wild dogs and hyenas. In parts of Asia, the leopard shares its habitat with tigers, bears, wolves and wild dogs. These predators are individual or as group responsible for killing a leopard. Additionally these predators often steal prey of leopards. In order to be able to live safely with these predators, the leopard must have the ability to evade his enemies.
As long as man doesn’t prosecute, living together is fine with the leopard.
The home ranges of adult female leopards by SEIDENSTICKER, SUNQUIST and Mc DOUGAL (1990) at the edge of the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal were established to be 6 to 13 square kilometers, this was a region with a very high density of ungulates. In the Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary in Thailand, Rabinowitz discovered (1989) home ranges of leopards with 11 to 37 square kilometers. The size of the home range of leopards in the Serengeti NP East Africa is estimated by several researchers varied from 16 to 60 square kilometers. In Tsavo N. P. in Kenya discovered HAMILTON (1976) that the size of homes ranges varied from 11 to 121 square kilometers. Extremely big were the home ranges of an adult male and female that lived in the mountains of Stellenbosch in South Africa, containing respectively 388 and 487 square kilometers, large prey animals lack in that area. (Bailey, 1993)
Leopards living in the Kalahari Desert inhabit an ecosystem with the lowest available biomass of prey species. The home range size of three adult males amounted 2182km² and that of five adult females 489km² (BOTHMA ET ALL 1986;. BAILEY, 1993). The large differences in surface area of the home ranges can be generally attributed to the biomass of the prey species.
In the Kalahari Desert leopards spend the daytime hours to rest and the night hours to move. But they also regularly rest during the early evening and just before sunset(TURNBULL-KEMP, 1967). This contrasts with the leopards living in the Judean Desert, southern Israel, the leopards hunt but rarely at night, except when they hunt porcupines or house cats in human inhabited areas. The main prey species in the Judean desert is hyrax and ibex, both diurnal and therefore the leopard there is diurnal (ILANY, 1981). A similar situation is reported by NORTON and HENLY (1987) for leopards in the Cape Province of South Africa. They discovered that the leopards there are also predominantly diurnal active, with peaks of activity in the late morning and again in the late afternoon and early evening. The leopards rest from midnight until dawn. The favorite prey of leopards in the Cape Region; dassies (rock hyrax) which is also diurnal and unreachable during the night.
Other prey include small, also diurnal antelope species (NORTON, LAWSON, HENLEY en AVERY, 1986).
The day and night rhythm of leopards is strongly influenced by that of his prey, the presence of large competitors such as lion, hyena and tiger and the tolerance of the human being with regard to the leopard. Leopards hunting around villages are active at night and rest during the day in dense hedges of coniferous shrubs, making sure that they are not noticed by passing people or the village dogs (SUNQUIST, 1981).
The daily walked distances by leopards vary greatly. They can easily cover 12 km per night. Or 3 to 5 km per day are common in areas where sufficient food is available, but in areas with less food availability, distances of 10 to 20 km are usual for an overnight trip. In the Kalahari Gemsbok N. P. two leopard females moved every day over a distance of 16 or 17 km, with peaks of up to 33 km. The longest daily distances covered are those of resident males, who not only have a larger territory than females, but also should monitor the sexual status of females.
Leopards are solitary animals, each adult animal has its own home range. Several transmitter studies have shown that animals of the same sex rarely share their habitat.
Leopards visit most parts of their home range at regular intervals in order to claim the area through markers, odor and scratch marks to prove it as an occupied territory. The distance traveled at night by a leopard, is in part related to the size of the home range, to place markers in combination with how far he has to go for a prey is captured. In marginal occupied territories is the need to mark significantly less. The communication within the social organization by leopards is largely through scent signals.
Leopards have no special mating period. During oestrus a pair stays one to four days together (TURN-KEMP BULL, 1967) and couples several times up to even 60 times over a period of 90 hours (Desai, 1975).
The intervals at which a female produces cups sometimes varies greatly. In the Londolozi Game Reserve (South Africa) was the interval period 17.1 months (LE ROUX and SKINNER, 1989). Chitwan N.P. respectively 20 and 21 months (SEIDENSTICKER, SUNQUIST and MC DOUGAL, 1990). In the Serengeti N. P. 24 and 25 months (SCHALLER, 1972) and in the Kruger NP 28.8 months (Bailey, 1993). Assuming that the cups survive to independence, a leopard female can produce a litter of cups every two years (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST 2002). Leopard females reach sexual maturity at the age of 30 months.
Most matings are not successful, it results in only 15% in the birth of cups (Bailey, 1993).
The cups are born after a gestation period of 90 to 105 days (HEMMER, 1979 SEAGER and DEMOREST, 1978). The litter size varies from 1 to 3 cups exceptions up to six cubs, but with an average of two cubs (DE SILVA and Jayaratne, 1994, LANIER and DEWSBURY, 1976; Eaton, 1977; Zuckerman, 1953 DOBRORUKA, 1968 REUTHER and DOHERTY , 1968). Litters are born year round as found by SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST (2002) with a peak in April. In Rahuna N.P. in Sri Lanka, most births happen in the dry season from July to September and February to March (Jayaratne and SILVA, 1994). In contrast, in the Kruger N. P. five out of six litters took place at the start of the wet season (November-December), which coincides with the baby boom of the impala (Bailey, 1993). In neighboring Londolozi Game Reserve were five litters spread over all seasons(LE ROUX and SKINNER, 1989). To give birth, caves, rock crevices, hollow trees, dense thickets and abandoned buildings are used. The cubs are born blind. Cups in captivity weighed at birth between 430 and 1,000 grams. and had a length from head to tail tip from 36 to 48 cm.
The first days after the cups are born a female spends a lot of time taking care of her offspring. But because in between nursing she has to hunt, leaving the cups occasionally alone. During this period the cups are very vulnerable and many of them are killed by other predators. The highest mortality of the cups takes place in the first month of life. Mortality in the first year is estimated at 40 to 50% (BAILEY, 1993, DANIEL and SERRARO, 1990; Martin and MEULE TO 1988; CARO, 1994). Most leopard cups fall prey to lions, tigers and hyenas (TURNBULL-KEMP, 1967; HES, 1991; PINAAR and DE V 1969 STEVENSON-HAMILTON, 1947). Also leopard males sometimes kill cups. In southern Israel has been observed that at least eleven cups were killed by three different males over a period of nine years (ILANY, 1990). Leopard females in that region have to travel extreme distances to find food. It is not unusual for them to leave twelve days old kittens for a period of four days in order to hunt. Also in NE Namibia leopard females left for an extended period the cups (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002). In Nepal a female left her 20-day-old cups for a period of seven days alone, after which she spent 33 hours with her cups through, after she left again for a period of 33 hours, upon returning she spent 11.5 hours at its litter to be absent again for 36 hours. Then she spent 29 hours in the cave. All the time she left she stayed no more than 2 km from the cave (SEIDENSTICKER, 1977). The cups don’t always stay in the same den, sometimes they are moved every two to five days to another place (HES, 1991; SEIDENSTICKER, 1977 ADAMSON, 1980).
With an age of 2 to 3 months the cups become more mobile and they go along with the mother on tour, from that moment she also enlarges their range (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002). During that time the cups weighing 3 to 4 kg and then gradually change from milk to meat as food. The cups continue to drink from the mother till an age of 4 months, by then they reach a weight of about 6 kg. (LANIER and DREWBURY, 1976; ADAMSON, 1980). With an age of 7 to 8 months the milk teeth will be exchanged for permanent ones, during which time the cups start independantly to catch and kill their first prey(HES, 1991; ADAMSON, 1980). They are however, still not assumed to open the carcass of larger prey themselves.
There is a big difference in the need to learn to kill large prey between leopards and other big cat. Young lions and tigers, in order to survive, instantly learn to kill large prey, with leopard cups the necessity is not as strong, because they can survive on smaller prey species, which are easier to catch and less risk entail (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST , 2002).
With an age of twelve to eighteen months of age, the cups are independent. But the time of dispersion depends on the sex, availability of free territoria and reproductive status of the mother (and SUNQUIST SUNQUIST, 2002). In the Serengeti N. P. young males and females staying two to three years in the territory of the mother. But overall males are rather independent than females. The dispersion of young leopards is virtually unknown. In the Kruger N. P. a sub-adult male leopard was seen 30 km from his birth place, to return to his native area afterwards (BAILEY, 1993). The life expectancy of wild leopards for females is 19 years and for males 14 years (HUNTER, 2011). Females are known to be sexually active until their sixteenth birthday (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002).
In the absence of large or medium prey, leopards should invest more time in catching prey (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002). Leopards usually hunt on the ground, but are excellent climbers and can therefore also use ambush hunt from a tree to overpower prey. They are mainly eye-hunters, they usually locate their prey from a high point, a rock, hill or from a tree. Or lie in ambush at a drinking hole. Besides visual noted prey, they also may hear them. During an investigation in India leopards were trapped with a bleating goat as bait (SUNQUIST and SUNQUIST, 2002).
Because the leopard is not averse to bait, even if it is already in far dissolution, it is not difficult to poison leopards. When a rotting corpse is injected with poison a leopard will not notice this. A leopard which disturbed at his prey, will generally hurry back to the prey, this behavior makes the animal an easy target to hunt or poison (SEIDENSTICKER, 1992). In addition, man is in many cases a threat by destroying the habitat in the form of deforestation, overgrazing, causing prey species to move away. Urbanization and overhunting of prey species are in some parts of the distribution area also major threats to the survival of the species.
On the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature) of February 2000, the following sub species of the leopard qualified as critally endangered (IUCN Red List (2003), Panthera pardus NIMR (South Arabian leopard) (CR, C2a (i)), P. p orientalis (Amur leopard) (CR A2c: D), Pppanthera (North African Berber leopard or leopard) (CR C2a (i).), and P. p tulliania Anatolia leopard (CR,. C2a (i)).
An IUCN critically endangered (CR) designation indicates that the population size has dropped to less than 250 mature individuals. Additional criterion "2" means that there is a progressive decline observed in number of mature individuals, and criterion "i" means that the subpopulation is estimated to have fallen to less than 50 individuals.
The leopard is one of the most endangered predators in North Africa, only wild dog may be even more threatened. Of all the leopards, the Berber Leopard is certainly also one of the most endangered subspecies, possibly even more than the Amur leopard. To understand and investigate the threats playing a roll in the causes of decline of the leopard in North Africa are vital. Therefor basic knowledge must be collected. In addition, the viability of the population should be estimated on the basis of genetic variation.
In addition, there will be need to investigate the nature, population density and behavior of prey species and how all these factors affect the quality of the habitat in specific ecological zones in the Maghreb and how they determine the health of the predator populations.
To get answers to these specific questions NABCS initiates cooperation between local authorities (volunteers, management and staff of national parks and universities) and stimulates the local universities to do research on endangered predator species and their habitats in the Maghreb zone.