In December 2021, a tourist captured a very special video in Malamala Reserve, South Africa. The video shows an adult male leopard surrounded by 12 lions. Although the leopard tried to defend and fight back against the lions, in the end it was still bitten to death by the lion.
This is not the first recorded case, before that, another adult male leopard was also attacked by a lioness in Sabisen Reserve, South Africa, the unlucky male leopard was captured and killed by the lion. died before he could climb the tree.
In fact, in Africa, leopards inhabit 91% of the lion’s range, and news of lions killing leopards is also reported very often. As the weaker side, how did the leopards have to live with the lions?
This article will explain in detail how the South African leopard uses its special skills to achieve a peaceful coexistence with lions.
Environmental Profile South Africa
First, we need to understand the basic situation of South Africa’s natural environment.
The large landscape here is of course savanna, including many plant species, the most dense is the riverside forest, then the shrubs, the most sparse is the grassland.
The lion’s favorite prey is the African buffalo. In the riverside forest, food for buffalo is the most abundant, and the population of buffalo is also the largest. Lions are ambush predators, whereby the riverine forest environment is also very favorable for lions to ambush and hunt. Therefore, the number of lion species is also distributed the most, especially in riverside forests, then bushes and then grasslands.
And also coincidentally the favorite prey of cheetahs, the impala, also has a similar distribution density as the African buffalo and the lion.
Furthermore, the leopard is also an ambush hunter, and it also prefers to hunt in environments similar to lions. Therefore, in order to save their lives, leopards have to stand between two choices. Or it avoids the lions and goes to the lawn in search of safety, but food is scarce here. Or try to live in riparian forests and face more often with the lion, where it can eat its fill, but if found by the lion, it is in danger of being killed.
This is a map of Sabisand Reserve. Local habitats include woodlands, shrubs, and grasslands.
Correspondingly, look at the local lion distribution, the more red the color, the higher the lion density, and the bluer the blue the lower the lion density; white is where there are no lions.
When we examine these two maps, it is clear that lions prefer to live in dense forests and thickets, few in savannahs, and almost none in pure grasslands.
Let’s take a look at the local map of male and female leopards, and we can see that the leopard’s territory almost completely overlaps with the lion’s distribution. Where there are many lions, there are also leopards, and where there are no lions, there are no leopards.
From this we can see that the leopards chose the second route, knowing that there were lions in the forest.
In 10 other protected areas in South Africa (total area 5,070 square kilometers), the results of the scientists’ research were consistent, that is, leopards do not give up access to riparian forests because of the presence of lions. Where there are lions, there are leopards. Avoiding lions will mean not being able to catch prey.
At this time, a real problem is posed before the leopard’s eyes, which is how to be able to eat and not be killed by the lion?
Of the 36 strategies, running is the best option
The leopard’s strategy is encapsulated in one word: “run”, leopards are very good at hiding and climbing trees, these are considered two extremely important survival skills. In present Africa, because the African wild dog lacks these two abilities, it always has to avoid lions on a large spatial scale and lives in a small habitat that lions don’t like – grasslands, but prey in this environment is very scarce.
In prehistoric times, the jaguar, a close relative of the lion, used to live everywhere, but after the rise of the lion, they declined due to the lion’s attack, and now it is only exist in a corner of South America. And leopards have coexisted with lions thanks to these two techniques.
Research in Zimbabwe shows that when a leopard detects the presence of a lion, it will travel at twice its normal speed, quickly leaving the danger area. This is not to say that lions are slower than leopards. But the weakness of the lion is its endurance, the leopard can maintain a high speed for a longer time than the lion. This is because lions have a small heart, so the body will not be able to supply enough oxygen to meet high-speed running for long periods of time.
In addition, the advantage of leopards also comes from climbing trees, with their smaller and more flexible bodies, they can climb to higher places than lions.