What do leopards eat? Facts about their diet and lifestyle

Leopard with zebra kill in a tree fork, Kruger park

The leopard is an opportunistic carnivore. If you’re wondering what leopards eat, the answer is a long, extensive list of creatures.

These fur-ocious animals feast on almost anything that comes in their way, from tiny dung beetles to full-sized antelopes.

Not to be confused with jaguars or cheetahs, you can recognize leopards by the black rosettes speckled on their fur coats.

Despite being the smallest in size of all the big cats, leopards are strong and elusive. They can hunt on prey double their size, killing them with one swift bite to the neck.

Leopards have a flexible diet encompassing giant elands, baboons, reptiles, and even birds if necessary. They’re often considered “pests” by farmers for hunting domesticated livestock.

Without further ado, let’s jump right into the leopard’s diet and also discuss some interesting facts about them.

A Leopard’s Diet Might Surprise You

Baby leopard chewing on a freshly killed nyala

Leopards are certainly neither picky nor restrictive when it comes to filling their tummies. They can eat over 90 different species, usually preying on medium to small-sized creatures.

They have a pretty healthy appetite so they try to hunt large prey, but those are often difficult to come across in the wild.

Eating various meat allows leopards to gain the necessary nutrients from all the animals they consume, who also have an extensive colorful diet.

What does a leopard eat in the wild?

As carnivores mainly living in grasslands or savannas, their preferred meals are ungulate animals, like antelopes, gazelles, and buffalo. They’re also fond of other mid-sized animals like deer, warthogs, and primates.

In mountainous regions, leopards feast on animals like porcupines, rodents, and rock hyraxes. In rainforests, they opt for antelopes. On islands, they have a more fish-focused diet.

Leopards who don’t live on islands are not very fond of swimming. So, they’ll prey on fish only if they need to. They’ll swim in rivers or dams and snack on just about any fish species they find.

In extreme cases, leopards hunt crocodiles from rivers and even dine on lizards and snakes. Although rare, this happens if leopards experience severe hunger.

The same goes for leopards eating insects, who only do so when they don’t have many food options at their disposal.

As one of the strongest climbing cats, leopards can ascend trees to catch birds or eat their chicks and eggs.

They can also effortlessly climb mountains and rocky cliffs and are light-footed enough to make high jumps from the ground. This agility enables them to leap up to catch birds in flight.

Their hunting choices are adaptable depending on their environmental setting and the food availability therein.

If food is scarce, leopards opt to hunt more abundant prey, whether they’re desirable or not. This allows them to thrive in different settings and switch up their menu as and when needed.

What does a leopard eat in captivity?

Leopards in captivity usually eat carrion sourced from local farms.

This meat could include more giant animals like giraffes and antelopes, or livestock animals like cows and horses.

Captive leopards feed on different types of flesh to be as healthy and fit as their wild counterparts.

What do baby leopards eat?

Baby leopards, also called cubs, are born blind and helpless. They’re nursed by their mothers, who begin feeding them solid parts around the second month. By month three, the mother starts teaching her cubs how to hunt.

These cubs stay with their mother until they’re 12 or 18 months old. After which, they start living on their own and fending for themselves.

Leopard’s Food: A List of Their Favourite Meals

Leopard hunting a warthog in the Kalahari desert

What’s on the menu for leopards? They’ll adapt their taste buds and hunting techniques to source food that is native to the area they are living in.

Here’s a complete list of everything they eat:

  1. Fish.
  2. Birds including pheasants, guineafowl, and other smaller birds.
  3. Reptiles including snakes, lizards, and crocodiles.
  4. Rodents including mice, rats, rabbits, and hares.
  5. Small to medium-sized animals like monkeys, baboons, warthogs, antelopes, zebras and porcupines.
  6. Insects like termites, dung beetles, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, maggots, and more.
  7. Livestock like sheep, goats, calves, lambs, pigs, geese, and poultry.
  8. Carrion stolen from other animals like hyenas, jackals, wild dogs, etc.

How Much Do Leopards Eat in a Day?

Leopards don’t feed every single day. They’ll feast for a day and then spend the next few days digesting that food.

If they score a big meal, they can go 13-18 days before hunting again.

This survival tactic works well for them because new prey isn’t available to hunt every day.

Leopards Hunting Style and Habits

African leopard stalking a steenbok in Kruger National Park

Leopards prefer to hunt medium to small-sized prey. If necessary, they may steal carcasses from other animals like hyenas, jackals, and wild dogs.

They mostly steer clear in stealing from lions or a large pack of predatory animals since leopards hunt alone.

Leopards have a slow and sneaky style of hunting. They patiently stalk their prey and crouch low in close proximity until they’re ready to attack.

The golden coat with the rosette-shaped pattern allows them to camouflage in the wild. When ready, they pounce and go straight for the neck. The prey has no chance to react.

Thus, they rely on their ability to camouflage and their strength when hunting. Powerful jaw muscles allow leopards to kill large prey with just a bite to their neck. One bite is sufficient to break their prey’s neck and then suffocate to kill them.

Leopard’s Food Competitors

A leopard’s diet is similar to that of lions, African wild dogs, and hyenas. All these animals compete with each other for territory – which means access to food.

These same animals can also become predators to leopards if there’s a shortage of food. Lions, African wild dogs, and hyenas prey on cubs for food and kill adult leopards when competing for territory.

Did you know that leopards are also cannibalistic? Male leopards may kill and eat the carcass of the younger leopards in order to decrease territorial competition.

African Leopard Facts

With their sharp teeth, claws, and strong muscles, leopards are remarkable animals. They have a wild palette that’s easy to satisfy, eating whatever’s necessary to have their fill.

Here are some more exciting facts about African leopards.

1. Where do leopards live?

Leopard in dead tree, Madikwe

Just like their hunting style, leopards are very adaptable when it comes to their habitat and location. They can live in many different places all across the world. In fact, they live in more places than any other big cat.

You can spot leopards in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, southwestern and eastern Turkey, Southwest Asia, the Himalayas, India, China, Russia, and Sri Lanka.

Leopards live across many different habitats, including grasslands, swamp areas, shrublands, savannas, forests, woodlands, rainforests, mountains and deserts.

2. What does a leopard look like?

Leopards are often confused with cheetahs, who have more round or oval-shaped solid spots.

On the other hand, leopards have a fur coat speckled with distinct spots, called “rosettes” for their resemblance to the rose shape. These rosettes have no set pattern.

Most leopards are light-colored. Black leopards are often confused with black panthers because their spots camouflage with their dark coat.

3. Leopard’s agile speed

African leopard in running motion, with blurred background

Have you ever wondered how fast a leopard can run? They have top speeds ranging between 56-60 km/h (35-37 mph).

This is significantly slower than cheetahs, who can run up to 120 km/h (74.5 mph).

It’s close to a jaguar and lion, who have recorded top speeds of 80 km/h (49.7 mph).

4. A leopard’s social life

A leopard’s social life is almost non-existent. They prefer to live and hunt alone. Each one has its territory, which it marks by leaving scratches on trees or a urine scent. This lets others know to stay away.

Leopards are like low-maintenance friends who only text once a month. They don’t require much attention and prefer keeping to themselves.

5. Can leopards climb trees?

Leopard with wildebeest carcass hanging from a tree

Yes, leopards can climb trees. In fact, they’re one of the most skilled climbers amongst cats.

They can easily drag carcasses up into trees and gorge on them while resting on a branch.

Enjoying their meal from atop a tree protects it from thieving hyenas and lions.

6. Do leopards sleep during the day?

Yes, leopards are mainly nocturnal animals. They’re active at night, and this is when they do most of their hunting.

They spend their days sleeping or resting. On some occasions, they may hunt during the day.

7. How do leopards communicate?

Leopard snarling at a hyena stealing scraps from a carcass

Leopards communicate through distinctive calls. When angry, they growl. When happy, they purr like domestic cats. To make another leopard aware of their presence, they make a hoarse, raspy cough.

8. How Long Do Leopards Live?

Leopards can go for many days without drinking or eating. In the wild, leopards live for about 12 to 15 years. In captivity, they can impressively live for up to 23 years.

The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species classifies leopards as not yet endangered but “vulnerable.”

Despite living in many places across the globe, leopards are slowly decreasing in population. The reasons behind their declining population are habitat loss and hunting.

Interesting Facts About Leopards and Their Unusual Diet

Young leopard eating a hare in early morning light

And there you have it folks, all the information about leopards and their eclectic diet.

A leopard’s diet is adaptable and flexible. It covers a wide collection of different kinds of meat and creatures. Leopards will eat whatever’s necessary to satiate their hunger and gain maximum nourishment to stay full of energy.

Hopefully, you found these fun facts on leopards interesting and educational. Book a safari today and spot a leopard in the wild!


About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *