|Amur Leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis.|
|Notice the empty rosettes that indicate this is a leopard, not a jaguar.|
As explained in a previous post, generalist predators tend to have more intellectual capacity than predators that don't have to make as many decisions or learn about as many different types of prey. Leopards hunt alone, which means they are unlikely to evolve complex social interactions, which is likely cold comfort to their prey. Leopards are definitely stronger than other big cats of similar size, and they have been observed hauling prey up to three times their weight high up into trees to save for a later meal. This combination of strength and intelligence makes the leopard particularly awe-inducing to me.
The highlight of our leopard-watching for the day was a dangerous game between the leopard and a squirrel, two smart-cookie generalist consumers. The squirrel had found a prized piece of hot dog bun near the leopard cage and was trying to decide whether to eat it in place or carry it away to another location, a vegetarian version of the leopard's prey-stashing. The leopard heard the leaves rustling around the squirrel, crouched, sighted the squirrel and pounced. The leopard was denied its afternoon snack by only a thin wire fence. The squirrel continued to appear to frolic in the leaves, rustling them unnecessarily along the edge of the cage for another minute or two before it left to gorge on simple carbs. The leopard was as agitated as a house cat being teased with crinkly paper. It struck me that the squirrel had learned the fence would hold and ignored the deadly but contained predator. The leopard had not completely habituated to the fence and continued to respond to temptations on the other side. It either hadn't learned the fence was immutable or its brain was so exquisitely tuned to the rustling prey sounds that there was no other possible behavioral response the leopard could offer at the moment. If you have ever played with house cat, it certainly seems that they are compelled to pounce on rustling things - perhaps it is the same with big cats.
|Leopard focused on a squirrel just two feet away.|