|A Clouded Leopard -Is it just me, or do all the big cats in these pictures look sad. If they are they have reason to be|
-Image from Wikipaedia
International Leopard Day was on May 3, Jaguar Day was on June 11, World Cougar Day was on June 12 and International Tiger Day will be on July 29, so I thought we’d have a quick look at the big cats all together so I could catch up a bit. I thought there were only about five, but as it happens, as with Giraffes, they come in many forms and are very different from one another, and that's just the Big Cats. I also found out that an African Panther is a type of Leopard, but an American one is a Jaguar and a Snow Leopard is not a Leopard but a type of Tiger while the Cougar has about eight different names depending on which region you are talking about. For these reasons, I’ll split this into several posts. I won’t be describing each one in detail either, but there’ll be links under each category if you want to know more. Unfortunately, as with almost every other species on the planet, most big cats are also in decline. As the UN put it in 2018:
“Big cats like Lions and Tigers cannot survive unless they have plenty of wild animals to eat. Those wild animals cannot survive in sufficiently large numbers unless their habitats remain intact. Humans have been encroaching on these habitats, while poverty, greed and ignorance have been driving the illegal trade in wildlife. So big cats, like many other species of wild animals, are under threat as never before.” (United Nations (2018) Big Cats Feel the Pinch)
While there are common elements such as habitat loss, hunting, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, many big cats face additional threats which will be mentioned in the relevant section. Most of this information comes from Big Cats, Wild Cats and Big Cat Allies but also other sources as indicated. At the end there I'll add some other organisations which are doing their best to help.
Despite heroic efforts to save them, thousands of big cats continue to be killed each year, along with thousands of forest rangers who have been employed to protect them. When the top predators disappear from the food chain, as the big cats usually are, smaller species proliferate, stripping the vegetation and expanding until they eventually die of starvation and disease.
All cats belong to the Felidae family, and most big cats except the Cheetah and the Cougar belong to the same Panthera genus which includes the Lion, the Tiger, the Jaguar, the Leopard and the Snow Leopard. All are carnivores too. We’ll start with the Leopards since their day was way back on May 3.
|The leopard is now found mainly in Africa, Asia and in small pockets of the Middle East|
At 1.65m (65") from head to tail, Leopards are half the size of Jaguars and have similar markings – black spots on a golden background but again, those of the Leopard are smaller. Once widespread throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia and parts of Siberia, Leopards have disappeared from 50% of their range and are listed as Vulnerable by the ICUN. Some species such as the Persian and the Sri Lankan Leopard are Endangered and the Amur, Javan and Arabian Leopard are Critically so. It’s estimated that only 40 Amur Leopards remain. Leopards are thought to already extinct in Hong Kong, Singapore, Syria , Kuwait, Libya and Tunisia. Logging, farming, mining and commercial development are major reasons for habitat loss, while forest fires -often deliberately lit, are a contributing factor in Indonesia.
Sub species of Leopards:
- Indian Leopard (Panthera p. fusca) – Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
- African Leopard (Panthera p. pardus) – North, West, East, Central and South Africa
- Javan Leopard (Panthera p. melas) – Java (Indonesia)
- Arabian Leopard (Panthera p. nimr) – Saudi Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordon, Syria, Lebanon
- Amur Leopard (Panthera p. oreintalis) – Russian Far East and China (North)
- Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera. p. kotiya) – Sri Lanka
- Indochinese Leopard (Panthera. p. delacouri) – Southeast Asia
- Anatolian Leopard (Panthera p. tulliana) – Turkey (East), the Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia, Russia (South), Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran (North) and Iraq.
-From Big Cats,Wild Cats
Shrinking habitat and human expansion means more conflict between Leopards
and humans, usually at the expense of the Leopards. In Africa, both parties
also compete for wild meat in the jungle, where again the Leopard loses out against
armed competitors. Trophy hunting is also still legal in many parts of Africa. In
Tanzania where male Leopards may still be shot, 77 females were shot over a three-year
period, resulting in a drastic reduction in the number of cubs. Illegal hunting
and poaching also continue.
The Amur Leopard
|Time is running out for the beautiful Amur Leopard which lives in Northern China and Russia's Far East|
The Amur Leopard has been losing the race against time with only 40 left in the wild and numbers still falling. Listen to David Attenborough talk about them below. The good news is that both China and Russia have created adjoining Land of the Leopard National Park, extending the range of the Amur Leopard three fold in 20 years and thereby also helping to conserve other species.
The Amur Leopard
The Clouded Leopard - celebrate its day is on the 4th of August
|A Clouded Leopard in action|
The Clouded Leopard is called that because as it reaches maturity its spots become elongated and blurred. It also has the longest teeth of any members of the family and is an excellent climber. Half the size of other Leopards, it is found in the foothills of the Himalaya, in places such as India, Nepal and Bhutan and also southern China, Thailand and the Malay peninsula.
It is currently classed as Vulnerable with only around 10,000
believed to exist in the wild. Its numbers too are declining largely due to deforestation,
but also due to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. It takes 25 of them to make
one Leopard skin coat.To see what is being done to help them, click here.
The Snow Leopard - It's day is on the 23rd of October
|Snow Leopard Cub|
Image from Wikipedia commons
Snow Leopards live at high altitude in the Himalaya and twelve
countries in Central Asia such as Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Russia and Mongolia but the largest population remains in China. They are in fact more closely related to Tigers than
Leopards but they do have the distinctive spots of other Leopards as well as
some unique twists more suited to their colder environment. Their ears are
smaller and closer to their body to keep them warm. Their larger paws work like
snow shoes in the snow and a wider nasal cavity enables the air they take in to
warm before reaching their lungs. They also have longer tails for better
balance on rocky terrain and can leap up an incredible to 15.24m (15'). [Warning; Music is a bit loud and screechy on the following clip but it's very informative].
Reports vary considerably but there are now only between 4,000 and
7000 Snow Leopards left in the wild and they are listed as vulnerable,
particularly with respect to climate change, but also because of habitat loss due
to human encroachment and poaching. Already squeezed between expanding
populations at the base of the mountains and shrinking glaciers at the top, the
Snow Leopard is being forced into higher altitudes where there is even less
game, but poaching remains the biggest threat.
|A panther may be a leopard or a number of other species - it's about the colour|
- Image by Tomiko, published under CC ND
Panther is more or less a generic term used to describe several large cats. In Africa or Asia it is used to describe black Leopards while in Central or South America, the black form of the Jaguar is also described as a panther. The dark colour of their skin is due to the presence of melatonin and is most likely an evolutionary trait to enable them to survive in different environments, yet a litter may include both dark and light -coloured offspring, depending on the parental colouring. Black “panthers” of African and Asian origin include the following:
- Javan Leopard (Panthera p. melas)
- African Leopard (Panthera p. pardus)
- Indian Leopard (Panthera p. fusca)
- Indochinese Leopard (Panthera p. delacouri)
- Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera p. kotiya)
- Arabian Leopard (Panthera p. nimr)
- Amur Leopard (Panthera p. orientalis)
A white variant also exists. These may be white Leopards, Cougars or Jaguars (see next post) as a result of a number of conditions. See more here.
Next up: Jaguars, Cougars and Pumas, Tigers, Lions, Cheetahs