In Africa, the Benin culture praised the aggression and courage of the leopard. The leopard was identified with royal power attributes given to kings for patience and cunning. Benin kings kept live leopards in their palaces; they were cared for by a royal order. Carved leopards guarded entryways. Secret leopard societies were guardians of the written language. The paw print of a leopard symbolized the need for quiet, calm and composure.
Leopards also have a sinister reputation. Edgar Rice Burroughs' fiction relates that Tarzan was orphaned by an attack of leopards on the family. Accounts of leopard attacks in lore and literature traces the leopard's habitat to Africa, the middle east to India, Asia minor to the islands of Java and Sri Lanka, to mainland China and beyond.
In 1926, the British big-game hunter Jim Corbett killed the leopard of Rudreprayag, which had stalked and killed people traveling to Hindu shrines in northern India. The leopard reportedly attacked more than 115 people. Wherever the cat dispersed, the lore and literature of the man eating leopards exist. Indeed the phenomenon of leopards revered attributes and killer stories can hardly be without substance.
Leopards adapted to mountains, forests, savannas, and dry steppe regions. They use trees as an observation advantage, protection, and as a cache if its kill is too large to eat in one meal. Their tails are extremely long (2 to 3 feet) for balancing in trees.
In the wild, the leopard is extremely difficult to detect. The disruptive pattern of spots breaks up its outline against the surrounding foliage. The base coloration of the leopard's coat ranges from pale cream to deep gold with its tail shades darker. The leopards' spots are called rosettes because of the irregular rose shapes. The leopards' rosettes do not have internal spots like other spotted cats. Each leopard has unique markings on its muzzle; no two leopards are identical. Leopards need only 20% of light to have the vision equivalent to humans. Their perception is exceptionally sensitive to movement on the horizontal axis. They are solitary and most frequently nocturnal hunters. Silently, leopards stalk their prey in slow measured motion and get less than 9 feet from their target before pouncing. In a burst, the adult leopard can climb 12 feet up a tree with a 150-lb kill; however, the popular image of leopards is one of repose--draping trees with limp legs and long dark tails.
The texture of the cat's tongue has rough hook shaped structures. It is useful for grooming and peeling off fur and skin of its prey. Leopard claws are curved and razor sharp on the back edge--designed for slicing as opposed to grabbing. In proportion to the body, the leopard's canine teeth are larger than the other big cats. They have a second set called cutter teeth, which are serrated and move down like scissors interlocking. Leopards can easily bite through bone with them. People have a fascination with cats. Like most wild cats when young, leopards have the appearance of kittens. This characteristic misleads people into thinking they could be house pets.
The leopard remains somewhat secretive about its solitary disposition. The lack of information and understanding makes captivity difficult. Those leopards that are endangered species means that there is still a chance to create managed habitats, places for them to be leopards. On the other hand, if safe habitats are not considered, we will only have the lore and literature about a big cat that once draped trees and captured our imagination.
Melanistic leopards (black leopards)
The black leopard is most commonly found in the low light of India's forest floor. It is usually born with other cubs that have regular coloration. The dark background coat it the product of a recessive gene.
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