The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Armadillo
Story Of The Lynx
Story Of The Elephant
Story Of The Leopard
Story Of The Reindeer
Story Of The Coyote
Story Of The Wild Sheep
Story Of The Mungoose
Story Of The Zebra
Story Of The Yak
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Story Of The Leopard
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Some years ago a couple of leopards, which lived in England, afforded a strong proof of the innate individuality of these animals. One of them, a male, was always sulky and unamiable, and never would respond to offered kindnesses. The female, on the contrary, was most docile and affectionate, eagerly seeking for the kind words and caresses of her keeper. She was extremely playful, as is the wont of most leopards, and was in the habit of indulging in an amusement which is generally supposed to be the specialty of the monkey tribe. Nothing pleased her so well as to lay her claws on some article of dress belonging to her visitors, to drag it through the bars of her cage, and to tear it in pieces. Scarcely a day passed that this amusingly mischievous animal did not entirely destroy a hat, bonnet or parasol, or perhaps protrude a rapid paw and claw off a large piece of a lady's dress.
The cubs of the leopard are pretty, graceful little creatures, with short pointed tails, and spots of a fainter tint than those of the adult animal. Their number is from one to five. Even in captivity the leopard is a most playful animal, especially if in the society of companions of its own race.
The beautiful spotted creatures sport with each other just like so many kittens, making, with their wild, graceful springs, sudden attacks upon one companion, or escaping from the assaults of another, rolling over on their backs, and striking playfully at each other, and every now and then uniting in a general skirmishing chase over their limited domains. Even when they are caged together with lions and tigers, their playfulness does not desert them, and they treat their enormous companions with amusing coolness.
The third in point of size of the Old World cats is the leopard, or panther, a species closely allied to the lion and tiger, from whom it is at once distinguished by its color marks and inferior dimensions. Two species of large spotted cats are recognized as inhabiting Africa and India, to the smaller of which the name leopard is restricted, while the larger is known as the panther. Although there is an enormous amount of difference between the smallest and the largest of such spotted cats in point of size, yet I find that the change from the one to the other is so gradual and complete that, in a large series of specimens, it is quite impossible to say where leopards end and panthers begin. Hence it appears to me that there is but a single species, for which the name leopard should be adopted. The spotted coat of the leopard being its most distinctive feature, the animal (in common with the hunting-leopard) is known to the natives of India as the chita, meaning spotted; the leopard, on account of its larger size, being often distinguished as the chita-bagh, or spotted tiger. I have made a careful study of the two animals, and have concluded that they are of the same species. They are as close kin as are the Jersey and Shorthorn or Durham cows.
The differences in the size of individual leopards is so great that while in the smallest examples the total length of the head, body and tail does not exceed five feet, in the largest it reaches to as much as eight feet. In a large male, of which the total length was seven feet eleven inches, the head and body measured four feet nine inches, and the tail three feet two inches.
The leopard is one of the three larger cats which are common to India and Africa, the other two being the lion and the hunting-leopard. The distribution of the leopard is, however, more extensive than that of the lion, embracing nearly the whole of Asia, from Persia to Japan, but not extending as far north as Siberia.
Next to the tiger in India, and to the lion in Africa, the leopard is the most formidable flesh-eating animal to be found in either country. In its habits it differs essentially from both the lion and the tiger in that it is thoroughly at home in trees, running up a straight-stemmed and smooth-barked trunk with the speed and agility of a monkey. Moreover, the leopard is a much more active animal than the tiger, frequently taking tremendous leaps and springs. The Indian leopard, although its powers of offense are far inferior to those of the tiger, is in some respects a more dangerous animal, as it is roused with less provocation, and is more courageous in attacking those who disturb its repose. The favorite resorts of the Indian leopard are rocky hills covered with scrub, among which it seeks secure hiding in caves and under overhanging masses of rock. From strongholds such as these the leopard in Southern and Central India watch the surrounding country towards sunset, and descend with astonishing celerity and stealth, under cover of the rocks, to cut off any straggling animal among the herds or flocks on their return to the village at nightfall. From their habit of lurking in the vicinity of the habitations of man, to prey upon cattle, ponies, donkeys, sheep, goats, and dogs, leopards are frequently brought into collision with Indian villagers; and a leopard being mobbed in a garden, or field of sugar-cane or standing corn, from which he will charge several times, and bite and claw half a dozen before he is despatched or makes his escape, is no uncommon occurrence in India,
This partiality of the leopard for dogs seems to be characteristic of the animal from one end of India to the other, and there are many instances on record where leopards in the hill-stations have swooped down in broad day-light and carried off pet dogs from before the very eyes of their European masters or mistresses. It is but rarely that leopards take to man-eating, but instances do occur, one of which came under my notice some years ago, when a leopard carried off a considerable number of persons from a village in Kashmir. In Africa the general habits of the leopard appear to be very much the same as in India, Sir Samuel Baker relating how, on one occasion, a dog was carried off from the very middle of his camp by one of these marauders.
The leopard has often been tamed, and, indeed, almost domesticated, being permitted to range the house at will, greatly to the consternation of strange visitors. This complete state of docility can, however, only take place in an animal which has either been born in captivity, or taken at so early an age that its savage propensities have never had time to expand.
Even in this case the disposition of the creature must be naturally good, or it remains proof against kindness and attention, never losing a surliness of temper that makes its liberation too perilous an experiment. The very same treatment by the same people will have a marvelously different effect on two different animals, though they be of the same species, or even the offspring of the same parents.
The snow-leopard inhabits the elevated regions of Central Asia. In Ladak it does not descend below the level of some nine thousand feet above the sea-level in winter, while in summer it ranges to a height of eighteen thousand feet and upwards. Its long and thick fur is specially adapted to protect the animal against the severe winter cold of the regions it inhabits. The beauty of the fur of a snow-leopard killed during the winter is unrivaled. The animal is probably found all over Thibet, but how far to the westward of Gilgit it extends is at present unknown. It has, indeed, been reported from Persia and Armenia.
Our knowledge of the habits of the snow-leopard is at present but limited, since comparatively few have seen the animal in its wild state. From living in a practically treeless country, it is probable that it is unable to climb. It preys chiefly upon wild sheep, and goats, and marmots, and other rodents; it wages war upon domestic sheep and goats when grazing upon the higher grounds; and it will likewise, it is said, occasionally attack ponies. It is reported never to molest man.
The hunting-leopard is another representative of the cat family, and differs so markedly in certain respects from all the others that it is now generally admitted to rank as a distinct breed. It is generally known to Europeans as the chita.
The hunting-leopard is distinguished by the slenderness of its body, and the great relative strength of its limbs, which are longer than in any of the true cats, not even excepting the lynxes. In length of body it may be compared with the true leopard, although it stands much higher on the legs.