Primorye Week: Leopard (Panthera pardus)
Today, we visit the smallest of the big cats at home in Primorye, a fascinatingly diverse region of far eastern Russia that you can read a bit more about in last Monday’s post on the musk deer. In that post, I quoted John Valliant’s The Tiger in saying that only in Primorye, and nowhere else in the world, “can a wolverine, brown bear, or moose drink from the same river as a leopard.” I have no reason to doubt that, but leopards are pretty adaptable. The IUCN says that “the leopard has the widest habitat tolerance of any Old World felid, ranging from rainforest to desert,” and in that range is the “boreal jungle” of Primorye, as well regions ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Leopards are also quite adaptable in terms of what food they’ll eat, not disdaining to eat a beetle, a baboon, or a wildebeest. Walker’s Mammals of the World informs us that when leopards hunt, “larger animals are seized by the throat and killed by strangulation. Smaller prey may be dispatched by a bite to the back of the neck.” Leopards are so strong and so good at climbing trees that they will store carcasses bigger than themselves in trees to eat later.
If you’re wondering about leopards and panthers and whether they’re the same animal, let Ivan T. Sanderson, my favorite mustachioed, swashbuckling naturalist, set you straight with this passage from Living Mammals of the World:
“Before anything else is said about leopards, it is essential to dispose of the age-old argument about the names ‘panther’ and ‘leopard.’ Fairly important men have been challenged to duels for either affirming or denying that there is a difference—i.e., that there are two different animals. There are not: the two names denote the same animal or animals—for they vary greatly—though they may be used to differentiate between large and small, or between light and dark individuals in any one area. All the Great Cats that can roar are now officially panthers, as their technical name implies.”
I wonder if there’s any point in trying to find out just who was involved in those duels.