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Big Cats - Leopard

( Originally Published 1936 )

The colouration of the Leopard varies, but, in general, the fur is yellowish and covered with a greater or lesser number of black spots, or rosettes. The head is flat, and long from the eyes to the back part, the face short, and the throat of the male hangs somewhat in the form of a dewlap, giving it a thick and heavy appearance. The ears are quite short, the eyes cold and cruel-looking, owing to their pale yellow colour and the very small round pupil, which in a strong light reduces to a dot in the centre of the iris. The legs are short, the tail extremely long and graceful, and often trails the ground in walking. See Plate 13, Fig. 58.

The Black Leopard was long thought by naturalists to be a separate species, but is now thought to be simply the melanistic, or black, form of the common species, though for some unknown reason this variety is more abundant in the Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Southern part of India than elsewhere. It is generally believed that Black Leopards are born in the same litters with normally-coloured individuals; and, indeed, although at first glance this animal appears to be wholly black, closely observed, especially in sunlight, the rings and spots on the body become plainly visible, showing darker than the surrounding fur.

In Africa is found a Leopard of a pale strawcolour, covered with innumerable small black spots set very close together. The most northern variety of these animals, found in China, is lighter in colour, and, like the tigers of that region, has long, soft fur.

The Leopard is regarded by those who have hunted it as the most courageous and crafty of all the Cats; hunters like Sir Samuel Baker and Gordon Cumming agreeing that they would much prefer to hunt the lion or tiger. Though not so large as the American jaguar, it is probably the most intelligent of the Felidae, as well as the most agile, and it adopts many tricks in order to secure prey. It feeds on many of the smaller animals, and does not hesitate to attack women and children, its method being to lie concealed in a tree overlooking a stream, usually, and leap on the back of the victim's neck, killing it with one bite through the backbone. It seldom attacks men, unless it has been wounded.

While Leopards in captivity are at times gentle and docile, their temper is variable, and they will in a moment, from sudden irritation or some fancied danger, turn and scratch and bite terribly. One that I saw frequently in the Washington Zoological Gar-den some years ago, would apparently court attention, coming up to the bars of her cage and purring like a cat, evidently anxious to be stroked. She was, how-ever, entirely untrustworthy. In the same cage was a rather old male Leopard, and her chief diversion seemed to be in teasing this inoffensive animal, sneaking up behind him, clawing him viciously, and then jumping quickly away. After this persecuted cage-mate died, another and more powerful male was put in his place. At first she was much afraid of him, crouching timidly away in a corner of the cage, but after a little while she gained confidence and resumed her old tricks of biting and clawing, from which her new companion, in spite of his greater strength, did not seem any better able to defend himself. She at one time bit off about four inches of his beautiful tail.

Owing to its smaller size and superior intelligence, the Leopard can be trained to do many things that are impossible to the lion or tiger, and on this account is always desirable in wild animal shows.

In a book of travels there is an incident illustrating how the colouring of a leopard may make it invisible, even to a hunter gazing directly toward the animal and being instructed by a native as to where to look for it. In this case the hunter says : " I saw only a mass of light and shade under a dense overgrowth of greenery, dead leaves and grass, vivid yellowish where the pencils of light broke in upon the gloom. All that I looked upon in that green-wood tangle was equally leopard. I could pick out no particular object as being any more so than the rest. Of head or tail I made out nothing, where all was equal to the other, and still that native of keenest vision besought me to see details of its anatomy." While he was gazing toward the thicket, there came a roar, a rush, and the hunter was knocked down by the animal's charge. When the creature could thus escape the gaze of a searching hunter, it may easily be understood how little likely it was to be discovered at a casual glance.

Ounce or Snow Leopard (Fells irbis)

This is a comparatively rare cat, owing to the fact that it lives in almost inaccessible parts of the world, usually above snow-level in the mountainous regions of Asia. In form and proportions it is closely allied to the common leopard, although the fur is longer, is of a greenish-grey hue (much of the colour of lichens) and is covered with large but indistinct rings and spots of darker colour. The profile of the head is quite different from that of other cats, having a decided notch or jog over the eyes, like a dog. The orbits are very prominent, and the ears are so small that they look as if they had been clipped off. While the eyes of most of the Cat tribe are yellow, those of the Snow Leopard are greenish-grey, much the same in colour as the fur.

The few specimens of this animal in captivity are extremely gentle in disposition. It is remarkably silent, apparently having no definite call like the ordinary leopard or the jaguar, although it is occasion-ally heard to growl.

The skin of the Snow Leopard is in great demand on account of its beautiful fur, especially in Persia and the countries round about, where it is used by the royal families for robes, saddle-bags, and other purposes.

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