Creature of the shadows: The African Leopard

South African Wildlife art

South African Wildlife art


The African Leopard (Panthera pardus)

One of Matthew Bell’s most intricate South African wildlife art pieces, is the great leopard above. Leopards are part of the large cat family, and are listed on the vulnerable list. What separates them from smaller cats to fit into this category, is the ability to roar. For example, the cheetah is also a very large wild cat, but it is categorised separately because it cannot roar at all, only growl.  The African Leopard is found most commonly along the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is also found in other parts of Northern Africa.



The African Leopard has few enemies. Hands down their largest enemy is the human being, hunting them for their coats, claws, teeth, aphrodisiacs and other trophies. Second in line would be the African Lion, as these cats are the largest of all and travel in packs. The leopard, who is a sole traveller, has next to no chance competing with lions. Even though leopards can climb trees to hide, lions can also climb, just not always as far up.


South African wildlife art


Another massive leopard threat, is the African Hyena, the wild dog of the bushveld. Although far smaller than the leopard, these dogs too, travel in packs. Not only will they always outnumber the leopard, but as scavengers, they will do almost anything to steal and claim their meal. A fully-grown leopard is no match to get in the way of their food, of which, a baby leopard is rarely off the menu. The African Wild Dog’s jaws will crush a leopards bones if seen as a threat to them.

Other adult leopards trying to take over their habitats also pose a great threat. Because lush areas, ideal for hunting, aren’t always in abundance. Any other leopard in its territory is a threat. Leopards will fight or intimidate until one leaves, the victor remarking the area with their scent.

South African Wildlife art


Leopards are well-known for their ability to both gracefully, yet brutally kill their prey. They are stalk and pounce hunters, and will rarely attempt something they are unsure will result in a successful meal. When an attempt is unsuccessful, they will rarely pounce again to try the same prey twice. When desperate or a novice hunter, leopards will settle for small creatures such as, but not limited to, the African Dung-beetle, mice and wild hare. Though when more powerful and larger prey is available, the leopard will prey on warthogs, buck, baby giraffes, antelope and other creatures.


Breeding habits

Female leopards will release a scent when she is ready to mate with potential male leopards. Each mating ritual lasts for about 3 seconds in intervals of around 5 minutes. This continues for a few days, to ensure the leopard conceives. As cats of solidarity, after mating takes place the leopards will both go their separate ways. Females usually give birth to around one to 3 cubs. However, some cases of one cub to four have been recorded. On average, cubs have about a 50% chance at survival. At the age of about 20 months, the mother will force them to leave and fend for themselves.


View more South African wildlife art, by Matthew Bell

To view more South African wildlife art, please feel free to head on over to the gallery on the home page. Here you can view both original pencil art and prints :

To get to know the pencil artist a little better, head over to the Q&A page at:

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