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NATURE: Revealing The Leopard

Airs Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 8 p.m. & Sunday, August 4 at 4 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Close-up photo of a leopard. Leopards are very shy, despite their size and strength. They originally evolved in the African jungle, but are very adaptable, and now live from the far end of Siberian Russia, to the farmland around the Cape, in South Africa. They are one of the most widespread large predators, and they outnumber all the other big cats added together.

Leopards may be slower than cheetahs and weaker than lions, but they are more successful than either of them, or any other big cat. Their populations inhabit territories that cover nearly half the world, and while nobody knows exactly how many leopards there are, it is estimated that there are roughly ten times more of them than all the lions, tigers, and cheetahs added together. Their success relies on cunning and stealth, and on their unique ability to adapt. As survivors, predators, teachers and parents, they are very clever cats.

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott

African leopard resting on tree branch with right paw dangling down.

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott

African leopard stalking a herd of agitated wildebeest.

Indonesian black leopard hunts in the grass. Asian leopards tend to be smaller than African leopards, and some, like this Indonesian leopard, not much larger than a large house cat. The black or melanistic leopard’s dark colour is thanks to a recessive gene, like red hair or blue eyes. They often give birth to spotted young, except in one isolated population in Indonesia where all the leopards are black.
Enlarge this image

Above: Indonesian black leopard hunts in the grass. Asian leopards tend to be smaller than African leopards, and some, like this Indonesian leopard, not much larger than a large house cat. The black or melanistic leopard’s dark colour is thanks to a recessive gene, like red hair or blue eyes. They often give birth to spotted young, except in one isolated population in Indonesia where all the leopards are black.

Their numbers are surprising to most of us because, unlike bears or wolves, they are one of only a few large predators able to live so close to us while remaining so unnoticed. Yet they are all around us, living in the shadows, not only among the villages of Africa, but also on the outskirts of large cities like Beijing, Jakarta and Mumbai, and in the rice paddies and farms of Southeast Asia.

Leopards like their lives to be private, and until recently, relatively little has been known about them. But one remarkable cat developed a tolerance to being filmed and one day began to allow the cameras to follow her to her den.

Following the story of this mother leopard and her two cubs, as well as observing other leopards around the world, the incredibly private and vulnerable lives of these extraordinary cats are revealed. NATURE grants unique access to their secretive world in "Revealing The Leopard."

NATURE is able to watch the mother leopard raise her cubs from their very first days. She must keep moving and be ever vigilant to keep them safe from predators like hyenas, lions, baboons, and even other leopards.

She teaches her cubs the most important rules from the start: fear your enemies, slink into the shadows, make no noise, hide and let no one see you. For the rest of their lives, these lessons will be the difference between life and death. Forgetting them will be fatal, as one of the cubs will learn.

Interspersed with the leopard family story are vignettes of leopards from around the globe. The film takes a look at small Arabian leopards in the Middle Eastern deserts of Oman, Amur leopards in the snowy mountains of the Siberian Himalayas, and leopards living around farms and villages in India.

The shared history of leopards and humans is also explored. We are ancient enemies, which may help to protect us even today. Leopards have learned that the best defense against us is not to attack and kill us, though they could easily do so, but rather to slip into the shadows and remain unseen.

Wherever in the world they have found themselves, these ancient instincts have served them well. Despite habitat loss caused by growing human populations and urban centers, they have continued to prosper using their wits and their wisdom, ancient cats making the best of it in the modern world.

This program originally aired in 2010.

NATURE is on Facebook, and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter.

Video

Nature: Revealing The Leopard Preview

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Watch Revealing the Leopard on PBS. See more from Nature.

Above: Leopards are the ultimate cats. They are the most feline, the most intelligent, the most dangerous and, until recently, one of the least understood. They hunt from South Africa to Siberia, from Arabia to Sri Lanka, and are the most widespread predator of their size on land. A leopard is a cat that walks by itself, unseen and secretive. Leopards are the beautiful killers that live in the shadows. This film will accumulate the evidence and put together a psychological profile of this extraordinarily cunning cat.

Video

Nature: Revealing The Leopard: The Cub and the Baboon

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Watch The Baboon and the Cub on PBS. See more from Nature.

Above: One of the leopard cubs has to hide from a hungry predator. Will it survive?

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