Leo 80M, an unnamed Far Eastern leopard who injured his paw in a poacher's trap, is preparing for the winter season at the Center for Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals. He is learning to hide his food in dry foliage and walk in snow.
As it grew colder, Leo 80M, just like all his fellow spotted cats living in the wild, changed his strategy for storing prey. Earlier, densely overgrown brushwood provided a natural shelter for a deer carcass, but after the autumn leaves fell off, the leopard had to take pains to camouflage his kill.
"He now covers a deer carcass with foliage, branches and dry grass so that you can hardly notice it. This allows him to save the meat for a few more days because if he leaves his kill in the open, it will immediately be looted by ravens. And we have seen tigers behave in a similar manner, only tigers don't cover their prey with grass and leaves but carry it into a cave," said Yekaterina Blidchenko, an employee of the Center for Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals.
The recent snowfall also made Leo 80M adjust his behaviour. The centre's employees have noticed that he now prefers trodden trails, carefully putting his paws in melted paw prints as he walks; if one of his paws touches damp snow, he immediately jerks it away, shakes off the snow and puts it on a thawed patch. If he comes across logs, he prefers walking on the logs. Specialists note, however, that this is typical leopard behaviour.
"Thanks to trail camera data and professional photographers' accounts, we have long known how languid and funny leopards may look when walking on snow. With each next step, the animal is more and more reluctant to put his paw on damp cold snow. That is why leopards often seek snowless areas. But this manner is most common during idle hours when a leopard is relaxing. When a leopard sets out on a far trip, he easily walks in snow, paying no attention to cold," said Yelena Salmanova, deputy director for research at Land of the Leopard National Park.
Meanwhile, Leo 80M, whose current home is a large open-air enclosure at the rehabilitation centre, keeps honing skills that will enable him to survive in the wild. So far, he has gone on 12 successful hunts. Experts say that if all goes well, the cub may be released in spring.