Conspicuous, extensive, lingering and telling. Often the first to reveal the presence of it’s owner, and demanding of attention by all members of the audience.
Yes, I am talking about the captivating tail belonging to none other than a leopard.
Leopards have been known to humans throughout history, and have featured in the art, mythology, and folklore of many countries where they have historically occurred. Leopards were embedded in the history of countries such as Rome, ancient Greece, Persia and England, where they no longer occur.
To this day the pattern of a leopard’s coat still inspired countless trends in fashion, cementing their place as one of the most captivating beings on our planet.
Let’s for a few minutes pry our attention away from their obvious beauty, and look a little deeper. There’s more to a leopard than merely it’s incredible outward appearance.
You can learn a vast amount about the mood and state of a leopard, but keeping a close eye on its tail. Leopards often outwardly showcase their inward feelings via their striking tail. By understanding different postures and movement and will be able to not only understand what the leopard’s intentions are, but also be able to have a more enjoyable experience with the big cat.
Take a look at the image above.
This particular leopard had picked up on something of interest. It could have been a smell, a sound or an instinct. The tail is raised slightly and the tip of the tail twitched slowly from one side, to the other. This often represents interest, and will be observed several times when following a leopard.
The leopard will be thinking of its next move, wether to carry on walking or to investigate a little more. Take your cue from the cat, and scan in the direction the leopard is looking in. It may be something invisible to your eye, but at the same time it could be another predator on approach.
A leopard that’s annoyed due any reason, will usually showcase this for all to see. The tail will be kept high off the ground. They could even change the way they walked, becoming almost stiff-legged.
If they are disturbed by potential prey, this behaviour will likely follow. Leopards are masters of the shadows and despise being noticed, especially by animals that could draw more attention to it. Impala, Kudu & Bushbuck have loud alarm calls, and birds such as Francolins, Spurfowls and Vervet Monkeys will spare no effort in warning all around about the dangerous presence of the spotted cat.
At times they may be annoyed at your presence. Keep an eye to that tail and perhaps give it some distance when following behind.
A very important function for the tail lies in it’s evenly balanced weight. The tail is thick and heavy and any leopard will use this effectively for balance. Leopard’s are active cats and often find themselves up tree’s, on the run or at play with their mother or siblings. Balance is essential to a leopard’s survival.
As can be seen in the images depicted above, the strong tail can be utilized rather effectively when leopard’s are in tree’s. The tip of the tail is almost prehensile in nature and becomes like another limb.
Even when on the run, the heavy tail can be used as a “counter weight” in order to turn faster and sharper.
Have a look at the images below of two cubs at play. Notice how the cub at the back immediately changed the position of his tail as he swiftly changed direction in an attempt to keep up with his sister.
This is also crucial when hunting. Leopards are often in pursuit of quick-footed impala and other antelope. Split seconds will mean the difference between a full bellied cat or a long night of hunting.
Tails also play a big part between mother and cubs.
The tip of a leopard’s tail is a striking white, especially underneath the very tip. This feature allows it to be distinguished from the surrounding vegetation. A leopard cub can follow it’s mother with relative easy by keeping an eye on this white tip.
Leopard are often spotted purely because of the distinctive white-coloured tip, even from long distances. Not many things in the bush is pure white, so the tail when raised tends to really stand out.
Interactions between mother and cub are captivating to watch. Their tails are often at the centre of attentions. Cubs absolutely love playing with their mother’s tail. They often also brush the tail past their mother or sibling in a show of affection and kinship.
When encountering a situation where they would rather stay undetected, a leopard will often conceal its tail, especially the very tip.
Have a look at the interaction below between a leopard and a large rhino bull. Even though the rhino does not pose a threat to the agile leopard, he would much rather stay undetected than have to deal with an inquisitive rhino. Rhino have poor eye-sight and this bull never distinguished the leopard from the surrounding vegetation. As soon as the rhino lost interest the leopard resumed with its normal routine and posture.
As you can see, there’s always so much to learn. There’s much more to an animal than what meets the eye.
Always take the time to read into an animals behaviour.
They will very rarely do anything if there’s no purpose to it.
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