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THE STRAWBERRY LEOPARD

Updated on August 10, 2016
The basic colour variants in leopards - Pinterest
The basic colour variants in leopards - Pinterest

THE STRAWBERRY LEOPARD

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is of the genus Panthera, and is a member of the family Felidae. The common name "leopard" is a Greek compound leōn (lion) and pardos (male panther). It is one of the five "big cats" in the world, and together with the African lion, Cape buffalo, Black rhino and the African elephant, is one of the "big five" mamals of Africa.

The Strawberry Leopard (top) versus the Normal version (bottom) - Pinterest
The Strawberry Leopard (top) versus the Normal version (bottom) - Pinterest

Colour Variants

An extremely rare strawberry leopard was photographed by a guide on a South African game Reserve. Researchers in South Africa have found evidence of seven "strawberry" leopards, adding to just a handful of documented cases of these ultra - rare big cats. Most leopards have tawny coats and black rosettes, but strawberry leopards are reddish in colour with tan or light - brown rosettes. This condition was probably caused by erythrism, a little understood genetic condition that causes either an overproduction of red pigments or an underproduction of dark pigments. It was thought this mutation causes either an over production of red pigments or an under production of dark pigments in the animals that possess it, and thought to be rare in top carnivores.
Carriers typically display normal colouring, so we suspect that more unusual cats will show up in the coming years, as leopards continue to rebound. The research team also speculates that these incidents of erythrism could have something to do with feline escapees from the wildlife trade.

Strawberry morph
Strawberry morph
An example of two different leopard morphs from a single litter.
An example of two different leopard morphs from a single litter.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS

This rarely seen strawberry morph is highly prized by hunters and poachers, so these cats are at high risk if they stray beyond the protection of their home reserves. And though South Africa has imposed a year - long ban on the trophy hunting of leopards, many of the cats are still legally killed elsewhere on the continent. Not only the leopards are under threat. Today all our top felines find themselves in conflict with humans. One can only imagine how collectors all over the world would grapple to to get their claws on the strawberry leopard.

Roughly about ten game ranches in South Africa breed leopard, and the captive breeding of colour morphs of other species for hunting, such as lion for example, is known to occur. The texture and colour of the fur is believed to vary by climate and geography. Researchers believe that leopards in forests are observed to be darker than those in deserts.

Conserving leopards and their habitats support the health and survival of thousands of animal and plant species in Africa and the rest of the globe. Thus, by protecting big cats we are also protecting ourselves. One key to saving our leopards and other big cats, is to conserve their prey. The other cruicial element is educational innitiatives. Many individuals are partnering with big organisations, assuring that our big cat species are not permanently decimated.

A female leopard and her cub -  Pinterest
A female leopard and her cub - Pinterest
Leopard skins used for traditional garments -  Pinterest
Leopard skins used for traditional garments - Pinterest

The Global Trade in Leopard body parts

Leopards are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because their populations are declining in large parts of their ranges. They are threatened by habitat loss and vermin control and their habitats are fragmented because they are illegally hunted in many countries.
These cats are known for their beautiful furs, which are highly valued in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russian for garment making. Their bones and other body parts are in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine. In the traditional African muthi market their furs / skins, paws / claws, whiskers, bones, teeth and skulls are sold in wildlife trade for both medicinal practices and decoration. Some of these tribes, for example, believe that the bones and whiskers of leopards can heal sick people.
Many poachers are local residents who live in leopard habitat areas. These regions typically face high levels of poverty, and poaching offers a source of extra income that can be used to meet the most basic necessities of life, including food, shelter and much more.

A leopard with a hint of the reddish gene displayed on its back. However no sign of the typical pale colouration is displayed.
A leopard with a hint of the reddish gene displayed on its back. However no sign of the typical pale colouration is displayed.

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