Topic: Environment & ecology
Leopard is a decoration of Turkmen nature. Nowadays, in Turkmenistan the habitat of leopards is limited to the Kopetdag Mountains and Badkhyz. In the southwestern Kopetdag, the basins of the rivers Sumbar and Chandyr leopards inhabit the upper reaches of the large gorges grown with cloistered forests, with the scatterings of stones and precipices. Their traces can be often seen in the places with the good field of view (ridges and their crests), on the floor and in the upper terraces of gorges. Mostly, leopards keep to the places inhabited with ungulates.
The leopard is a big cat, often 130-180 cm long, and weights up to 70 kg. It has a lissome, slim body with a long tail (95-116 cm) and a relatively small round head. Its ears are short, widely placed and round on the top. The body is strong and brawny with the strong forepaws. The fur is short and closely fitting. Their pelage tends to vary from grey and ochre to bright reddish and foxy in colour with black and brown spots. The pelage on the belly and backside of extremities is almost white.
Leopards lead a solitary way of life almost all year round, and the animals mate only during the period of reproduction. Leopards can have cubs at the age of 2-3. A female, as usual, gives birth to a litter of 2-3 cubs in spring. Cubs may remain with their mother for 12-15 months.
Adults are more active at night, mainly. They take advantage of the compound relief and are famous for their ability to go undetected, avoiding meetings with people. Though leopards move along the foot and horse paths, and sometimes their routes are laid nearby the settlements, they are difficult to notice. Females with cubs are especially careful, usually they move along the steep slopes. An adult female makes a den in the place most difficult of access and rarely visited by people and uses it over many years. Young leopards, which have just started their adult life, are less careful. While examining their section of the natural habitat they can be seen at any time of day and appear near the settlements, field sites during daytime.
Leopards hunt wild ungulates – argali, pasans, rarely wild boars, gazelles and porcupines. From time to time they hunt foxes, jackals, wolves, badgers and wall-creepers.
Persian leopard is inscribed on the Red Data Book of Turkmenistan and the World Conservation Union and under the protection of the state. To hunt this rare predator has been prohibited since 1969. Leopards are protected in the Badkhyz, the Kopetdag and the Syunt-Khasardag National Reserve.
Mainly, leopards hunt sick or weak animals which are little adapted to the severe conditions of the arid mountains, unable to give a strong posterity. Science proved that predators are of critical importance for nature performing the role of “sanitarians”. Thus, undoubtedly, leopards, beautiful and noble predators, should adorn Turkmen nature in future.