Habitat and Distribution
Leopards occur in most of sub-Saharan Africa. They are found in all habitats with annual rainfall above 50 mm (Monod 1965), and can penetrate areas with less than this amount of rainfall along river courses: e.g., leopards are found along the Orange River in the Richtersveld National Park (South Africa), which lies at the southernmost extension of the Namib Desert (Stuart and Stuart 1989). Out of all the African cats, the leopard is the only species which occupies both rainforest and arid desert habitats. Leopards range exceptionally up to 5,700 m, where a carcass was discovered on the rim of Mt Kilimanjaro’s Kibo Crater in 1926 (Guggisberg 1975). They are abundant on the highest slopes of the Ruwenzori and Virunga volcanoes, and have been observed to drink thermal water (37°C) in Zaire’s Virunga National Park (J. Verschuren in litt. 1993).

The leopard appears to be very successful at adapting to altered natural habitat and settled environments in the absence of intense persecution. There are many records of their presence near major cities (e.g., Turnbull-Kemp 1967, Guggisberg 1975, Tello 1986a, Martin and de Meulenaer 1988: 18; G. Davies, B. Hoppe-Dominik, R. Kock, P. Norton in litt. 1993). Hamilton (1986b) reports their occurrence in western Kenya in extensively cultivated districts with more than 150 persons/km2, the largest livestock populations in the country, little natural habitat and prey, and where 20 years ago they had been considered extirpated.

However, leopards appear to have become rare throughout much of West Africa (Martin and de Meulenaer 1988: 11-14). According to T. Anada (in litt. 1993), they have completely disappeared from much of the Western Sahel.

Figure 6 shows the distribution of the leopard (except for South Africa, where the range is current). Countries are coded for abundance as determined by Martin and de Meulenaer (1988) (see explanation below), except that Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have been down-graded one category.

© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union

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