Can a leopard change their spots?

Leopard - Photographer: Melanie Van Zyl

“Can a leopard change its spots?”,  this well-known phrase, which means is it ever possible for anyone to ever change their character, dates back as far as the Old Testament. It was used by the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah who said: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard its spots?”.

Out here in the Timbavati we have learnt that leopards are rather fickle animals and often change their behaviour and territories. They tend to disappear behind bushes or pass through camp like ghosts, keeping us on our toes and begging the question, can leopards actually change their spots?

Leopard at the waterhole - Photographer: Melanie Van Zyl

Here are a few fun facts about leopards:

  • Did you know that leopards can hear five times more sounds than any of us humans?
  • Leopards have truly astonishing navigational powers and an incredibly strong built-in homing device. Although this ability is one of the characteristics that makes this cat unique, it also means leopards are very tricky to relocate when they have become a problem near human dwellings.
  • Of all the cats, pound for pound, leopards are the strongest and can hoist up to 50kg of meat into a tree. However, they are the smallest of all the “big cats”.
  • Leopards can leap up to 6 meters horizontally and 3 meters vertically, now that is pretty impressive, right?
  • Just like domestic cat’s leopards will purr when they are content and growl when they are angry. Their contact calls sound very similar to sawing wood.
  • Of all the big cats, leopards have the widest diversity in habitat and can learn to adapt to any given environment. Their habitats including rainforests, deserts, woodlands, grassland savannas, forests, mountain habitats, coastal scrubs, shrub lands and swampy areas.
  • Their diet can include a wide variety of species such as mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.
  • Leopards often pluck their prey before feeding. Using their incisors, they will remove feathers or fur from their meal before settling down to enjoy the tastier bits of meat.

On another note,  Rudyard Kipling also made use of this saying in his compendium of stories entitled the ‘Just so stories’. This book is full of wonderful tales about animals and how they got their interesting body parts. If you love Africa’s wildlife, you will definitely love this book. It is made for reading out loud at bed time and it’s just as much fun for the person doing the reading.

Leopard in the spotlight on a night drive - Photographer: Melanie Van Zyl