Axle – African Leopard

Axle is a male African leopard (Panthera pardus) born in 2011. He arrived with Amari as a bonded pair, and will be a permanent resident at the Foundation. Axle is Amari’s service animal, helping her eat and providing company.

The leopard is the smallest of the five ‘big cats’ of the genus Panthera, with the Asiatic leopard being smaller than its African counterpart. The African leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. Their fur patterns are often confused with those of cheetahs and jaguars. While leopards have a rosette pattern similar to jaguars, the jaguar’s rosettes have a central spot inside the rosette, and cheetahs are simply spotted without rosettes. Leopards exhibit a large variation in coat color depending on their habitats, they can be pale yellow to deep gold, as well as black. The African black leopard is more commonly known as the black panther.

Melanism in leopards is caused by a recessive gene, occurring in approximately 11% of the species. The term comes from the excessive black pigment melanin, which causes the fur to be a dark color. Though the traditional leopard markings are still present, they are difficult to see in low light. Littermates can be a mix of melanistic and non-melanistic, as well.

African leopards have an exceptional ability to adapt to changes in prey availability and are known to hunt wildebeests, impalas, gazelles, hares, rodents and many other small animals. They are very skilled climbers and use their long tails to balance as they climb. Their powerful limbs and strong jaws allow them to drag their prey, sometimes three times their own size, up into trees to keep other animals, such as lions and hyenas, from stealing it.

The African leopard’s habitat is distributed throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa occupying both rainforest and arid desert environments. The major threats to the African leopard is habitat conversion and retribution killings for real and perceived livestock loss.

Trivia: The term black panther can refer to any dark colored feline of the Panthera species. In this case, Axle is a black leopard, and if you look close enough, you can see the leopard pattern in his coat.

African Leopard Statistics:

Body Size 3 – 6.2 ft long, tail is 2 – 3.25 ft long
Weight Males 130 – 200 lbs, Females 75 – 90 lbs
Gestation Period 93 – 103 days
Litter Size 2-3 average
Life Span 12 – 15 years in the wild, up to 23 years in captivity
Status Vulnerable