Little Leopard’s TailBy Leah Leopard, as told to Hannah Schardt. Photos by Suzi Eszterhas
Want to know how baby leopards grow up to be skilled, sneaky hunters? Come follow this little leopard’s tail!
Hey! Let me go! Sometimes my brother, Pogo, is such a drag. I was just about to go exploring when he grabbed me by the tail and pulled me back to Mom!
My name’s Leah. My brother and I are mighty, muscled leopards. Or, at least, we will be—when we grow up. For now, we’re roly-poly, six-week-old cubs. We spend our days eating, sleeping, playing, and keeping our mom very busy.
Mom has to feed us, clean us, and protect us. But one day, we’ll be out in the big world all on our own. So how do we get from here to there? Loving care from Mom and plenty of practice, practice, practice!
My family lives in wetlands in the Jao Reserve in Botswana, a country in Africa (see map above). But leopards are found in all kinds of habitats in Africa and Asia, including grasslands, deserts, and forests. There used to be a lot more of us in other places, too. But people killed leopards for our beautiful fur or because they were afraid we’d eat their livestock. Luckily, now people are protecting us in many of the places where we still live—including here in Botswana.
In the reserve, we have trees to climb, tall grass to hide in, and lots of antelope and other prey to eat. It’s a great place to be a leopard!
Raising hungry, playful cubs is never easy. Just ask Mom. She takes care of us all on her own, and it’s a full-time job. As newborns, we were tiny and helpless, and our eyes were sealed shut. Mom kept us safe inside a den.
Now our eyes are open, and we spend some of our time outside. We still don’t eat anything other than Mom’s milk. But she has to find food for herself—all while making sure we are safe and well cared for.
Whenever Mom goes out hunting, Pogo and I stay hidden inside our den—a hole in a fallen tree. After all, a lion or a pack of prowling hyenas (hye-EE-nuhs) may think we look like dinner. In a few weeks, we will start following Mom on her hunts. Once we’re old enough for solid food, she’ll be hunting for three!
BUILT FOR THE HUNT
Once we are big like Mom, Pogo and I will be perfectly made for life on the hunt. Special eyes let us see in the dark. (We hunt mostly at night.) The white tips of our ears and tails let us keep track of each other without making a sound, even in tall grass. Our beautiful spots help us blend in with the shadowy grass. Sharp teeth let us make a quick kill. And our powerful legs and super-strong bodies help us drag our prey up into trees.
TIME FOR CATS-ERCISE!
Pogo and I are born hunters, of course. But practice makes perfect! So we are always working to be faster, stronger, and better at doing all the things leopards do so well: stalking, pouncing, chasing, and climbing.
One day, we will run as fast as 35 miles an hour—faster than the speed limit in your town. And we will be able to leap 20 feet in a single jump—farther than three grownups lying head to foot. For now, here’s how I train: I sneak up silently on Pogo, then chase and tackle him! (Don’t worry—he thinks it’s fun.)
When I’m all grown up, I’ll be able to climb a tall tree, dragging an antelope that weighs more than I do. But right now, Pogo and I improve our skills by climbing for fun.
Pogo and I will leave Mom in a year or two. Whenever we go, we’ll be ready to survive on our own. After all, we’ve had plenty of practice—and a great role model in Mom!