A secretive and unsociable animal that marks out its own territory and refuses to let other leopards in save to mate, the African leopard lives up to 21 years and grows to about 28 inches at the shoulder. The leopard lives in the bush and forest areas, carrying its dead prey, usually gazelle, impala, deer and wildebeast although occasionally also monkey sand rodents, into trees to consume later away from lions and hyenas who would attempt to steal it. An agile beast, and the smallest of the four other big cats of lions, tigers and jaguars, the African leopard can run at speeds of over 36 miles per hour, leap over twenty feet and jump up to ten feet. Their young are born after a 3-4 month gestation period, usually 2-3 at a time, although up to and including six have been known. The kittens will then stay with their mother for up to two years before setting off on their own.
One major threat to the African leopard is man who not only hunts the leopard as a trophy item, but man's encroachment into new areas has led to a loss of habitat compounded by climate change that has seen them disappear from desert and semi-desert areas (see distribution map above) although some remain in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. It is estimated that leopards have disappeared from 37.6% of their former habitats, although population numbers are unknown. In 2008 the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the African leopard as "Near Threatened" which means it could be threatened with extinction in the near future. Although the killing of leopards is banned or regulated in many countries, there are cultural issues that lead to ongoing killings.
For example; the Shembe, followers of the Zulu Nazareth Baptist Church in South Africa with some ten million followers, have adopted the practise of wearing spotted and therefore mainly leopard fur during religious festivals, leading to the decimation of the leopard population in parts of South Africa as can again be seen from the above leopard distribution map. The African leopard can now be found in Afghanistan; Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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