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Leopards and Jaguars

Updated on October 20, 2014

Leopards

Leopards are the smaller of the two cats and are agile night hunters. With eyes that are six times stronger than that of a human, and with excellent climbing skill, and perfect camouflage these cats make for the perfect ambush killers. They have a golden coat with black and brown spots that allow it to hide in almost any kind of habitat. I will be discussing in this half of the article a leopards size, habitat, hunting and diet, and breeding.

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Size and age

As I said above, the leopard is the smaller of the two cats and only gets up to lengths of 6 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet. Both males and females can reach weights of 175-200 lbs. They can live to be about 23 years old but average a lifespan of only 12 years in the wild. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at about 2-3 years of age and will mate year-round in the tropics but seasonal in other areas.

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Habitat and Territory

Leopards are solitary animals with the exception of a mother and her young, and during mating. They live throughout most of the grasslands in Africa and much of Asia. They are also found in tropical forests and in the Middle East, Soviet Union, Korea, China, India and even Malaysia. These cats have a large range of territory that they can live in and are very adaptive.

To mark its territory, its behaviors are the same as most other cats where it will spray urine on certain areas and scratch and rip the bark off of some trees within its territory. An area rich in prey and game will usually lead to a smaller territory then that of an area with less prey. The territories of males are larger than that of females and will often overlap several female territories but the males will never share territory with other males.

Did you Know?

A leopard needs a lot of room to hunt, up to 10 square miles of territory, and if another male enters its territory the two will often fight to near death for the right to hunt in the area.

Hunting and Prey

The leopard hunts under the cover of darkness to ambush its prey using super senses such as its highly acute hearing and vision. Without even a trace of moonlight, this cat can see and stalk its prey without ever being seen. It will sneak up on grazing animals such as gazelle or impalas and leap out and grab one without ever being noticed. One bite from these predators’ strong jaws finishes the job. With its super climbing skills, the leopard will drag its kill up into a tree so it can feed in peace without the worry of being disturbed.

The leopards’ diet consists of a large variety of prey such as baboons, warthogs, monkeys, medium-sized antelopes to small mammals and birds. Sometimes a leopard will develop a preference to one or more types of prey. It is said that some man-eating leopards (Very rare) often develop a liking for the taste of human flesh once they have had it.

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Did you know?

Black leopards were once thought to be a separate species of leopard but are now considered true leopards. Although they are black, their spots are still faintly visible and sometimes they are even born into the same litter as common leopards.

Breeding

During the time of breeding, which can be year round or seasonal, male and females will get together for only 6-7 days when the female is in heat. The strong sent of her urine that she sprays is what draws the males to her during this time. After they mate the male will leave the female and return to his own territory and will leave her to give birth and raise her young on her own. She will then find a hidden lair and after a gestation period of up to 3 months she will give birth to 2-3 cubs but on super rare occasions they can have up to 6 cubs.

Due to the short gestation period, the cubs are born underdeveloped and helpless. At only 15-20 ounces, they need care for a long period of time from their mother. She will move her cubs to a new den every few days to keep them safe from being a meal for lions, hyenas, jackals or even other male leopards. The babies’ blue eyes open after 9 days and their spots start to come in at this time as well, however due to the spots being so light they still look like a solid grey color. The cubs will stay with their mother for up to 2 years.

3 baby leopard cubs
3 baby leopard cubs | Source

Jaguars

Jaguars are the larger of the 2 cats and are also night hunters. Jaguars have a fierce biting power and are the only big cat that will bite down and crush the skull of its prey killing it instantly. These cats are also great ambush predators but they do not drag their kills into trees to eat. In this second section of the article I will discuss the jaguars’ size and age, habitat, hunting and diet and breeding.

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Size and Age

The jaguar can reach lengths of 6 feet from head to tip of the back; its tail is another 30 inches. Males can reach weights of up to 125-250 lbs and females can reach up to 100-200 lbs. They can live up to 22 years and they reach sexual maturity at 3 years for both males and females. The general gestation period for jaguars is 93-110 days.

Habitat and Territory

Jaguars are also solitary cats with the exception of the mating season when they come together to mate. The jaguar lives in the rainforests and swampy grasslands of Central America and South America, and sometimes even as far as Patagonia. The largest jaguars however, are found in Mato Grosso in Brazil.

The size of a jaguars territory, like that of the leopard, depends on the availability of food in the area. In an area where food is plentiful the territory may be smaller than in area where food is scarce and more territory is needed for hunting. A jaguar can survive in a circular area of just 3 miles in diameter where food is plentiful, yet it may need up to 200 square miles to roam if food is not as plentiful.

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Hunting and Prey

As the leopard is a night hunter, a jaguar is also a night hunter. While they mostly hunt on the ground, they do occasionally climb a tree to wait to ambush prey. The jaguar tires quickly but can cover short distances rapidly which is good for hunting at night. It will creep up on grazing animals under the cover of night and wait for the perfect chance to strike. It then runs that short distance and pounces on its prey and sinks its claws into the animal’s sides to hold it while it delivers the killing bite to either the neck or the head to crush the skull. The jaguar does not drag its prey into a tree, instead it carries it into thick cover to feed.

The jaguar is a great swimmer and so with its diet consisting of anything from small mice to deer, it is also known to eat fish, frogs, turtles and small alligators. It is especially skilled at catching fish, which it does by flipping the fish out of the water and onto the river bank with its large paws.

Did you know?

  • The Jaguar is the only big cat that doesn’t roar.
  • Some jaguars are nearly all black, but their spots can be seen in bright daylight.

Breeding

Because the jaguar has been hunted to near extinction for their beautiful fur, it is hard for scientists to study the family life of jaguars. Most of the information comes from studying captive jaguars in zoos where they have bred successfully. Males and females in the wild only meet to mate and the male leaves as soon as the mating is over leaving the female to raise her young on her own. She will give birth to one to four cubs that are blind at birth. They only weigh up to 25-32 ounces when they are born and are completely helpless.

At about 2 weeks they begin to explore the outside of the den when their eyes have opened. Then at 6 months they start to hunt with their mother and learn all her skills and techniques. They will stay with their mother for the first 2 years of their life before going out to find territory of their own.

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Conservation for Leopards and Jaguars

Both of these big cats are slowly becoming endangered due to hunting them for their fur and losing their territory to farmland. Their numbers have greatly diminished in the past several years and they need your help. You can help make a difference by not buying furs and going to the links below to learn more about how you can help.

http://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/leopard

http://www.leopardcon.co.za

http://www.wcs.org/saving-wildlife/big-cats/jaguar.aspx


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    • pateluday profile image

      Uday Patel 2 years ago from Jabalpur, MP, India

      Informative article. Leopard is very illusive and difficult to study. In my job as nature guide it is difficult to track a leopard in Jungles of India.