Chapter XIV

CHAPTER XIV

The Leopard's Habits

Now I shall tell you the other qualities and habits of the leopard.

First, his size. The leopard is smaller than the tiger; he is not quite three feet high at the shoulders. The length of the leopard's body, without the tail, is about five feet.

That is the average size of the male leopard. In describing each kind of animal I am usually telling you about the male, because he is generally larger and stronger than the female. Why? Because the male has to do the fighting to protect the family, especially when the children are very young.

The leopard's strength is so great that he can break a steer's neck with a blow of his paw. He cannot carry a steer on his back, which a tiger can do, but still the leopard can drag the steer for some distance. As for a deer, the leopard can easily carry it. That has been discovered in a strange manner. As I have told you, a leopard lies on the bough of a tree and waits for a deer to pass under the tree. One time a leopard happened to kill a deer in that way. As he was not very hungry, he ate only a few mouthfuls from the throat and from the under part of the deer.

He wanted to keep the deer for his next big meal. But if he kept it on the ground, the jackals and hyenas would find it in his absence and eat it up. So what did the leopard do? Can you guess?

Well, the leopard carried the deer up that tree, and placed it crosswise on the fork of the bough. Then he climbed down and went for a prowl. He knew that the thieves of the jungle—the jackals and the hyenas—could not climb the tree and steal his dinner.

But a party of hunters passed that way and saw the deer's body on the fork of the tree; and they knew that a leopard had carried it up there.

How could they know that? Very easily. The hunters brought down the deer's body and examined it. They found that the deer's throat and under part had been eaten.

Now I must tell you that hunters know from the study of the jungle that each wild animal[178] has a different way of eating its prey. A leopard always eats first the throat and the under part; but a tiger always eats a hind leg first. So these hunters knew that it must be a leopard that had eaten the deer's throat and under part.

And the hunters also knew before, from their study of the jungle, that a leopard can climb trees; but they knew that more certainly after this incident. How? Because they knew from the deer's throat that a leopard had killed it and partly eaten it; and they found the deer in the tree. So they concluded that the leopard must have climbed the tree and hidden the deer there.

This also proves the fact that the leopard is really an intelligent animal. The lion and the tiger hide their prey by merely placing it in a hollow in the ground, and covering it loosely with sand or leaves. But unless the lion and the tiger are very watchful, the thieves of the jungle often steal their dinner; that is, the jackals and the hyenas smell the flesh, and uncover it and eat it up.

But the leopard hides his prey more securely. As he has the power of climbing trees, he uses that power to carry his prey to the fork of a tree, where the thieves of the jungle cannot reach it.

My dear children, there are many people who do not use the natural gifts they have. The leopard does better than that. He uses his gift of climbing trees in two ways: first to catch an animal passing beneath, and then to hide the prey in the tree. Had the lion and the tiger continued to use their former gift of climbing trees, they too would have been able to hide their dinner safe from the thieves. Instead, they now find it stolen many a time, and have to go hungry.

The leopard, of course, uses his other gifts in catching his prey in various ways. Being a feline, he too can give a big bound like a cat, and as he also has padded feet, he can catch his prey by stalking it. He creeps silently through the jungle, till he comes near his prey; then he gives a sudden bound and falls upon it.

The leopard has splendid muscles; the muscles are not big, but they are hard. The leopard leads such an active life that he is generally slim, without any flabbiness. In fact, the leopard is a perfect type of feline grace, beauty, and agility. The lion is the laziest animal of the Cat Tribe; the leopard is the most active. The leopard is even more active than the tiger.

The Panther: Popular Name for Large Leopard

There is no such animal as the panther. That is only the popular name for a large leopard—particularly a large and ferocious leopard.

Some people fear a large leopard even more than they do a tiger, because a large leopard attacks a man even more often than a tiger does. Other wild animals as a rule avoid man, as I have told you before. But a tiger very often attacks man, and a large leopard does so almost every time he can. He is by nature even more ferocious than a tiger.

The leopard has this very bad quality: he is perhaps the only animal that kills for the mere "fun" of killing—just like some men who call themselves "sportsmen." If a large leopard gets among a herd of cattle, he kills several of them, one after another. He does the same with wild pigs, wild goats, and wild sheep. He kills many more than he can possibly eat. In fact, the bad name some people give to the tiger in that respect really belongs to the[181] panther or large leopard. When a large number of animals are found killed, a tiger is usually blamed for it.

But wise people, who have studied the ways of animals, never make that mistake. Of course, they cannot always tell by the paw marks on the ground whether a small tiger or a large leopard did the killing—because the paw marks of a large leopard look so much like those of a small tiger. But if a single one of the animals killed has been eaten, then they know whether it was a tiger or a leopard that did the killing. How do they know that? By examining the part eaten—as I have already described to you on page 178.

How the Leopard Seizes his Prey

A leopard usually seizes his prey by the throat. He grips the throat in his jaws, and holds on till the animal cannot breathe and is suffocated.

If the prey is large, such as a big stag, the leopard's grip on the throat may not suffocate it completely; then the leopard uses another method. He keeps his grip on the throat of the prey, and pulls downward with his full weight. The prey tries to rear up on its hind legs to throw off the leopard—but then the leopard pulls downward with a sudden jerk. This breaks either the animal's spine or its neck, and it falls to the ground.

The leopard seizes his prey by the throat when it is a swift-footed animal, like the deer. But when it is a slow-footed animal, like cattle, the leopard uses another method—at least on some occasions. He rushes to the prey from the side or the back, and kills it by a blow of his paw on the neck from above—as a tiger does. If one blow only stuns the prey, and it falls, the leopard just starts eating the throat, which of course kills the prey.

The Leopard's One Amiable Quality—He Loves Perfumes

The leopard is said to have at least one amiable quality. It is said that he is so fond of beautiful perfumes that he can be tamed with them! That is, if you use some beautiful perfume which the leopard likes, you can tame him with it for a time. But I cannot tell you whether that is always true.

There are many things said about animals that are not always true, for instance, that every animal can be charmed with music—if only we use the particular kind of music which that particular animal likes. No doubt, particular kinds of animal have been charmed in that way for thousands of years; and even the most terrible kind of snake, called the cobra, is regularly charmed in India with a flute.

You must have read of these serpent-charmers in storybooks, as they charm even wild cobras in that way. So it is quite true that several kinds of animals can be charmed with particular kinds of soft music, such as the music of the flute and the violin. I shall tell you all about that in my next book.

But about taming leopards with perfumes—we are not sure that all wild leopards can be tamed with beautiful perfumes. It is at least true that some wild leopards have been tamed in that way. I shall now tell you a true story, to show you how that once happened.

The Leopard and the Lavender

Once a wild leopard had been caught in a trap in the jungle. He was put into a cage and carried overland to a seaport. There the leopard in his cage was put on a ship to be taken to England. The cage was placed on the deck of the ship.

The leopard was very wild and ferocious. If any of the passengers or crew came anywhere near the cage, he snarled with rage and leaped at the bars of the cage. He shook and bit the iron bars, as if he wanted to get out and attack the people. He was well fed all the time, but still nothing seemed to lessen his ferocity.

Then, one day, a lady happened to take out her handkerchief. She was standing about three or four yards from the cage, and a fresh breeze was blowing from her direction toward the cage. Immediately a change came over the leopard. A minute before he had been snarling with rage at sight of her, and trying to get out to attack her.

But as soon as she took out her handkerchief, the leopard ceased to snarl and to bite the bars. Instead, he tried to put his head through the bars, as if to get his nose as near her as possible.

Of course the lady did not understand that. She merely wondered why the leopard had changed his behavior so suddenly. She now noticed that the leopard was bending down, and scratching the floor of the cage near the front of the bars—just as a pet cat or dog will scratch the floor outside your door to be let in. The lady wondered still more, and came a little nearer to the cage.

Immediately the leopard got up, and began pacing the cage in joy. The lady now stood about two yards away. Then the leopard put his paw through the bars and began to snatch with it. The lady was a little frightened at first, but presently she noticed that the leopard was not snatching at her, but at the handkerchief, which was still in her hand. And the leopard was not snatching ferociously, but almost playfully, like a great big cat.

After a moment's thought the lady realized that the leopard wanted the handkerchief—but why he wanted it, she did not know. So she threw the handkerchief at the bars. The leopard caught it in his paw, and pulled it into the cage.

Then you should have seen how that wild and ferocious leopard behaved! He played with that handkerchief more joyously than any kitten ever played with a ball. He put the handkerchief on the floor of the cage, leaped upon it, rubbed his nose on it, and even rolled over it.

Gradually the lady began to understand why he did that. The handkerchief had been scented with lavender. She wondered if it could be the lavender that he loved, and not the handkerchief itself?

Struck by this idea, the lady went to her cabin and brought out a small bottle of lavender scent. She opened the stopper, and splashed a few drops of the scent through the bars. Then the leopard simply went crazy with delight. He leaped upon the places on the floor where the drops had fallen, and he rubbed his nose on them, and rolled over them. Then the lady knew that it was the scent that the leopard loved.

After that she gave him the lavender to smell every day, and the leopard became so tame that he allowed her to come to the bars and pat his body.

But as this is a true story, I must tell you the ending. One of the men passengers on that ship gave the leopard a large piece of cotton-wool soaked in lavender. That was unfortunate—I mean it was unfortunate that the man used cotton-wool instead of a handkerchief or even a piece of cloth.

The leopard played with the cotton-wool in delight, and rubbed his nose and face on it. In doing so he must have got the cotton-wool into his mouth—and then he must have taken in a deep breath. We don't know whether he meant to do that, as he liked the perfume so much, or whether he took the breath without meaning to do so. In any case, the cotton-wool got into his windpipe, and he tried to cough it out; but he could not. The foolish passenger did not know what was the matter; and so he did nothing.

Then in a few days an inflammation set in, and the poor leopard died. Some people are so thoughtless!