Leopard

Sleek, stealthy and spotted, the leopard is one of the most recognizable and beloved of all the big cats.

Their range is fairly large, spreading across Africa and Asia, but many subspecies are endangered, and the species as a whole is considered vulnerable to extinction.

Leopard Range and Habitat

Leopards are adaptable enough to survive in both warm and cold climates. They tend to prefer dense vegetation with rocky landscapes and rivers that flow through forested terrain, but some subspecies make their homes in deserts, rainforests, mountainous areas and savanna grasslands. Some even encroach into urban or suburban environments, particularly in areas where humans have built cities near their preferred habitats.

Places leopards live include China, India, Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Northeast Africa. Approximately 66% of the original habitat of leopards in Africa has been lost to human expansion.

The Look of a Leopard

Remember Sultan and Yuvraj from Delhi Safari or Sabor from Tarzan? That’s a leopard. 

As the smallest member of the genus Panthera, leopards measure from 3 to 6.25 feet long and weigh between 60 and 150 pounds, with males being slightly larger than females. Powerful muscles and a sleek form give these cats the distinctive look of a deadly predator.

Leopards are well-known for their patterns of flower-shaped spots called rosettes. One way to tell a leopard from its close cousin the jaguar is that leopards don’t have dots at the center of each rosette, while jaguars do. Dots on the legs, head, throat and chest tend to be smaller, and the belly often has large solid black spots. Rosettes on a leopard act as a form of camouflage because they visually break up the body outline against a backdrop of vegetation. Leopards living in dark, dense rainforests have a darker coat than leopards living in lighter-toned environments, such as grasslands. In the darkest jungles, leopards may appear almost black, but their spotted pattern can be seen in the right lighting conditions.

The Life of a Leopard

When it comes to babies, litters tend to be small, with just one to three cubs per litter. By about three months after birth, cubs are ready to start following mom around on hunting expeditions to learn the ins and outs of being a leopard. After 13 to 18 months with their mother, young leopards set off on their own.

Solitary and shy, leopards tend to live alone instead of forming prides as some other big cats do. Males mark their territory with urine, feces and scratches on trees to keep other males away. They let a few females share their range but avoid direct contact except during mating season. Leopards tend to be silent most of the time, but they sometimes make this unique raspy barking sound:

Like all of the big cats, leopards are obligate carnivores. This means that they have to eat meat to survive. Leopards both hunt prey and scavenge. They hunt stealthily, sneaking up on prey until they are only a few feet away before lunging into an attack. These agile big cats are excellent swimmers and climbers, and they sometimes stash leftover food in a tree to keep it away from scavengers. In some dry habitats, leopards might only drink once every 10 days.

While these silent, stealthy predators are extremely adaptable, habitat and prey loss are a big danger to their existence in the wild. Fortunately, international conservation efforts are helping ensure a bright future for leopards throughout their large range, ensuring a permanent spot for these big cats in the rainforests, mountains and savannas where they love to roam.

Primate

When you’re talking about primates, you’re discussing one of the most diverse orders in the animal kingdom.

With over 300 species in existence, primates are actually the third-most diverse order of all mammals behind only rodents and bats.

In fact, everyone reading this information is a primate, as humans make up the largest primate species in the world. However, when most of us think of primates, we tend to think of our closest genetic relatives, which include apes, chimpanzees and mandrills.

Where Do Most Nonhuman Primates Live?

Primates are broken down into Old World and New World, based on where they’re found. They prefer heavily forested areas, making the rain forests of South America and Africa ideal climates.

Smaller, more slender primates tend to be found in the New World, with most of them living in the Americas, including South America and Latin America. These monkeys lack opposable thumbs and use their tails to grasp onto tree branches. Squirrel, howler and spider monkeys are generally part of this group.

By contrast, Old World primates, including baboons, apes, gorillas and other larger species, make their homes in the forests of Africa and Asia and lack tails that can grab onto branches. Instead, these primates use their opposable thumbs to get themselves where they need to go. They resemble humans more so than New World species.

How Do Certain Primates Differ?

Besides the lack of a tail, apes and gibbons have shoulders like humans, allowing them to swing from branch to branch. Conversely, monkeys lack that ability, which is why most rely on their tails to move among trees.

Another major difference is in their bone structures and brain sizes. Apes and similar species have larger brains than monkeys, which allows them to communicate in ways that monkeys cannot. Only humans have the ability to speak, but apes and chimpanzees can communicate through a form of sign language.

What Features Distinguish Primates?

The most distinguishing feature of many primates is opposable thumbs; however, not all share this trait. One trait that is shared is their fingernails, which are unique to primates. While some do possess claw-like nails, these are flatter and not at all like the claws found on other mammals, including cats and bears.

Primates also have a larger brain than other mammals, and it’s separated in a unique way that helps with different visual areas, allowing for more complex thought than other mammals.

What do Primates Eat?

If you’ve paid much attention to pop culture depictions, you know that monkeys and chimpanzees are well known for their love of bananas. Bananas are a part of many primates’ diets, but they’re far from the only foods they enjoy. It’s common for them to forage and eat tree bark, flowers and nuts native to their habitat.

In fact, scientists have speculated that primates’ brains evolved in large because of a need for them to get to fruits that were harder to reach but played an essential role in their diets. For some primates, like the orangutan, fruit makes up over half of everything they eat.

Most primates are omnivores, consuming both plants and meat. However, this has led some species to their downfall, as chimpanzees have hunted red colobus monkeys in Africa to near extinction.

Are Primates Endangered?

No primate is more threatened than the Hainan gibbon, which is currently found only in one remote colony in China and has a population of just 25 in the world. Like many other animals, habitat loss and the threat of poachers has drastically wiped out much of its population.

But the Hainan gibbon is far from the only species that faces the possibility of extinction. In fact, many primates, including gorillas, lemurs and howler monkeys, are endangered for the same reasons as the Hainan gibbon.

Currently, half of all primates are endangered because of big game hunters and the exotic pet trade, which leads primates to a life of captivity in a location they were never meant to call home. King Kong might make for an entertaining movie, but that’s all it was ever meant to be. If nonhuman primates are to survive, their homes need better protection.

Primates in Pop Culture

Speaking of King Kong, he’s by far the most obvious example of a primate in pop culture. The giant gorilla has been on the scene since the 1930s when the first movie was produced, and it glorifies gorilla-climbing capabilities by sending King Kong up the tallest structure of its time, the Empire State Building in New York.

Since that time, large gorillas have been revered on the big screen and cartoons. One episode of The Simpsons had Homer pulling Bart aside for Big Gorilla Week on the family’s favorite movie channel. Other examples include The Jungle Book, where the orangutans of King Louie make life a nightmare for Mowgli and his friends, and The Lion King’s mandrill Rafiki, Swahili for friend, serves as Mufasa and Simba’s trusted adviser.

Other examples of primates in pop culture include the Phoenix Suns’ mascot, known simply as the Gorilla. While gorillas have little to do with Arizona (as primates don’t choose to live in arid climates such as deserts), Gorilla has become a fan favorite for his acrobatics.

Besides being our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, primates also play a large role in helping their ecosystems survive and thrive. It would be a true loss if the shrinking of their habitats leads to the disappearance of some of these species from our planet.

Bison

Contrary to popular belief, bison and buffaloes aren’t the same animal.

Years of pop culture references, such as Where the Buffalo Roam, have caused Americans to blend the two animals, but while they’re similar, they’re completely different species.

In fact, there are no buffalo native to the United States — all of those animals are American bison.

What Are the Characteristics of the Bison?

The biggest difference between bison and buffaloes is the presence of a hump. American and European bison both have a hump at their shoulders, while water buffaloes and cape buffaloes, which are native to Africa and Asia respectively, have no hump. Bison also have short, sharp horns and a beard, neither of which are present in buffaloes.

Other characteristics of bison include their large size and grazing posture, as bison tend to drop their heads to eat grass. Bison can stand roughly six feet tall, and females weigh roughly 800 to 1,000 pounds, while males weigh 1,000 – 2,000 pounds at full adulthood.

What Animals are Closely Related to Bison?

The closest relative to the American bison is the European bison, which is the only other species that shares the Bison genus. More distant relatives include cattle, sheep, goats and buffaloes, as all of these animals are part of the Bovidae family. This family includes hooved herbivores, with all males in this family possessing two horns on their heads.

How do Bison Help Their Habitat?

When bison roam, it’s very beneficial to the lands they call home. As they walk on the grasslands, their hooves help aerate the soil by burying seeds and creating pockets of moisture in the ground, making it easier for grass to absorb moisture and thrive long-term.

Because of the benefits they provide to their habitat, bison are known as a keystone species. A keystone species is a kind of animal that plays such a role in their ecosystem that if something were to happen to that species, the ecosystem would be greatly and negatively impacted.

Are Bison Threatened?

Not anymore. In the 1500s, long before the United States was formed, roughly 30 to 60 million bison roamed the Great Plains region of what would eventually become American territory. When homesteading became popular in the 19th century, traders began to hunt bison for both their meat and their fur, using the latter for clothing.

The westward expansion of the United States was devastating for the bison, and by the 1880s, only 325 remained in the country. Fortunately, by this time, the U.S. government and its states recognized the damage they had caused and began enacting policies to protect the remaining bison.

Under the direction of William Hornaday, bison were gradually reintroduced to the Midwest, and their population has increased to roughly 275,000 in both public and private herds. Although this is a far cry from where they once were, their numbers have stabilized to the point where bison are considered not threatened.

Where Do Bison Live?

As part of the efforts to rebuild the bison population, many now live on the National Bison Range in Montana. Other protected spots exist in Nebraska, Oklahoma and North Dakota; free-range bison can be found in both Wyoming and Utah.

Bison will likely never reach the population they had before the 19th century, but  efforts to promote their existence and educate the public of their importance have been successful. Today, the bison is the national mammal of the United States, and its resurrected population means future generations should be able to enjoy these majestic creatures for years to come.

Lion

Nicknamed the King of the Jungle, ferocious lions rule their habitats — but they aren’t immune to endangerment or extinction risks.

Get the facts on this magnificent mammal below, including the surprising distance jumping lions can reach.

Where Are Lions Found?

Though lions once roamed large parts of Africa, as well as Asia and Europe, they are now primarily confined to regions in sub-Saharan Africa. You can also find approximately 300 Asiatic lions in India’s Gir Forest.

Lions prefer grasslands and open woodlands, so don’t expect to find them in rainforests or deserts. Because lions get most of their moisture from food, they can comfortably dwell in dry climates. You can also find lions in zoos, where they live up to 20 or 25 years instead of the 10 to 15 years they enjoy in the wild.

What Are Some Characteristics of Lions?

Like smaller felines, including domestic cats, lions mark their territory with urine. They typically travel in female-led groups, called prides, with 10 to 15 females and their cubs, plus up to two or three males. Females do most of the group’s hunting, as males are often threatened by other power-hungry male lions.

Lions can sprint up to 50 miles per hour, and when needed, they can jump to safety or attack prey up to 36 feet away. Lions are often exhausted after their prowling adventures, clocking in up to 20 hours of sleep per day.

Lions are known for their loud roars which can be heard from up to 5 miles away. They roar when they’re angry or feel threatened.

Here is what a lion’s roar sounds like:

Lion Mating and Reproduction

Though lions can breed as early as age 2 or 3, many wait to mate until a pride is established. Once pregnant, a female’s gestation period lasts approximately 4 months, and females can give birth to as many as six cubs at one time. Cubs are born blind, putting them at risk for animal attacks. Only 1 in 5 lion cubs make it past age 2.

Lions are carnivorous creatures, though cubs do not eat meat until they are a few months old. They eat buffalo, giraffes, gazelles and zebras as well as other types of prey found in their regions. Male lions eat first, even though females typically catch the food, and then lion cubs get whatever is left. Lions do not typically attack humans unless provoked.

Are Lions Endangered?

Lions threaten other animals, especially giraffes and elephants, but many predators are hesitant to attack these furry felines. Hyenas are the exception. They attack lions and also spread diseases to these majestic mammals.

Due to changes in their natural habitat, lions may one day become extinct. Lions must also watch out for big game hunters, though poaching is generally illegal in their territories.

Lions in Pop Culture

Lions date back to the Biblical times, including a notable tale about Daniel and the Lion. Aristotle wrote about lions as early as 300 B.C. Because they represent courage and strength, lions are often used as mascots for schools and sports teams. Animated lions star in Disney’s hit movie, The Lion King, and a timid but likable lion was featured in The Wizard of Oz.

Astrology fans know that the lion represents Leos. If you gaze closely at the northern sky, you can see the sparkling Leo constellation. 

Lions exhibit bravery, strength and authority, making them a popular animal with people who value courage. Though lions seem intimidating, they aren’t likely to attack humans unless you bother them first, so it’s possible to coexist peacefully with these fierce felines in nearby areas.

Lion-Tailed Macaque

The lion-tailed macaque is one of the rarest and most threatened primates in the world.

Named for their distinctive tufted tails and silver manes surrounding bare faces, their resemblance to the lion mostly ends there. These primates are small, shy and, by monkey standards, quiet.

They live their lives almost entirely in the shadow-filled upper branches of rain forest in India’s Western Ghats mountains, and, unlike other macaques, they prefer to avoid contact with humans.

Lion-Tailed Macaque Physical Traits

These beautiful monkeys have silky black fur, and both males and females have striking silver manes that surround their faces from their cheeks to their chins. They’re the smallest macaque species, weighing 20 pounds and standing 2 feet tall at the most. They’re classified as Old World monkeys and are more closely related to apes and humans than they are to the primates that are native to Central and South America.

Lion-tailed macaques are quadrupedal, using four limbs to get around, and their tufted tails assist with balance rather than with grabbing branches or holding food. Their hands and feet have opposable thumbs that they use for agile gathering of food and grooming.

The lion-tailed macaque uses cheek pouches to store food. These pouches can hold the same amount of food as their stomachs. They prefer diets of fruit but are omnivores that supplement their fruit diets with foods like seeds, flowers, insects, small lizards and bird eggs.

Lion-Tailed Macaque Life and Behavior

Lion-tailed macaques are diurnal, foraging for food and being active only during the day. They live in patriarchal groups of 10 to 20 monkeys. These territorial primates defend their area from neighboring troops, and they’re the only macaques that use a call to mark their boundaries. The males start with loud cries to warn invaders, and if that doesn’t work, a chase that can turn into an aggressive battle ensues.

One dominant male is responsible for breeding in the group. The female lion-tailed macaque typically has its first baby when she’s 6 years old. She gestates for 170 days, and about two and a half years pass between births. This slow reproductive rate contributes to the challenge of protecting and repopulating this species.

Males born into a group typically leave between the ages of 4 and 7 years old. They live in all-male groups until they are skilled and strong enough to lead a troop of their own, facing fierce competition from other male macaques. Lion-tailed macaques have an average life span of about 20 years in the wild and have lived as long as 38 years in captivity.

The Lion-Tailed Macaque in Pop Culture

Many zoos around the world are making efforts to help with the repopulation of this endangered species, and they make significant efforts to support their lion-tailed macaque troops. A story from the Camperdown Wildlife Centre in Dundee, Scotland, illustrates the complexity of the relationships between these sensitive primates. The zoo decided to shut down for nearly a week after a young lion-tailed macaque died to give the troop time and space to mourn. Part of the macaque’s grieving process is to guard and preen the deceased troop member’s remains. It’s believed that this natural behavior helps the troop to come to terms with its loss.

Threats to the Lion-Tailed Macaque

The endangered lion-tailed macaque’s biggest threat is the encroachment of human development that destroys their habitat. It’s difficult to count these monkeys because they prefer to avoid human contact, but conservationists estimate that there are fewer than 2,500 in the wild.

Conservation efforts have been underway in southern India since 1972 to protect the lion-tailed macaques with some success, but continuous efforts are essential for this amazing species’ future ability to thrive.