Movement patterns and athletic performance of leopards in the Okavango Delta

Hubel, T Y and Golabek, K A and Rafiq, K and Weldon McNutt, J and Wilson, A M (2018) Movement patterns and athletic performance of leopards in the Okavango Delta. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285 (4). pp. 1017-1027. ISSN 1471-2954

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Although leopards are the most widespread of all the big cats and are known for their adaptability, they are elusive and little is known in detail about their movement and hunting energetics. We used high-resolution GPS/IMU (inertial measurement unit) collars to record position, activity and the first high-speed movement data on four male leopards in the Okavango Delta, an area with high habitat diversity and habitat fragmentation. Leopards in this study were generally active and conducted more runs during the night, with peaks in activity and number of runs in the morning and evening twilight. Runs were generally short (less than 100 m) and relatively slow (maximum speed 5.3 m s−1, mean of individual medians) compared to other large predators. Average daily travel distance was 11 km and maximum daily travel distance was 29 km. No direct correlation was found between average daily temperature and travel distance or between season and travel distance. Total daily energy requirements based on locomotor cost and basal metabolic rate varied little between individuals and over time. This study provides novel insights into movement patterns and athletic performance of leopards through quantitative high-resolution measurement of the locomotor, energetic, spatial and temporal movement characteristics. The results are unbiased by methodological and observational limitations characteristic of previous studies and demonstrate the utility of applying new technologies to field studies of elusive nocturnal species.

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