07 July 2012

The Welsh Panther: Panthera Pardus Cambrensis

Ecology and behaviour

Welsh Panthers (Panthera Pardus Cambrensis) are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. They are known for their ability in climbing, resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although are not as disposed to swimming as some other big cats, such as the tiger. They are very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 metres (20 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) vertically. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and "sawing" sounds.

Social structure and home range

Home ranges of male Welsh panthers vary between 30 km2 (12 sq mi) and 78 km2 (30 sq mi), and of females between 15 to 17 km2 (5.8 to 6.6 sq mi). Virtually all sources suggest that males do have larger home ranges. There seems to be little or no overlap in territory among males, although overlap exists between the sexes, with a female's home range completely enclosed within a male's. Female home ranges decreased to 5 to 7 km2 (1.9 to 2.7 sq mi) when young cubs were present, while the sexual difference in range size seems to be in positive proportion to overall increase. There have been no recorded incidents of aggressive encounters between males, possibly due to the plentiful supply of food.

Hunting and diet

Welsh Panthers are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera species, and will eat almost anything: rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds (especially ground-based types), fish and sometimes smaller predators such as foxes, and of course sheep. They stalk their prey silently, pounce on it at the last minute, and strangle its throat with a quick bite. They kill most of their prey while hunting between sunset and sunrise. They focus their hunting activity on locally abundant medium-sized ungulate species, namely sheep, deer and feral goats, while opportunistically taking other prey. Analysis of Welsh Panther scats found that 67% contained ungulate remains, of which 60% were sheep. Small mammal remains were found most often in scats of sub-adult panthers, especially females. Average daily consumption rates was estimated at 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) for adult males and 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for females. They select their prey focusing on small herds, dense habitat, and low risk of injury, preferring prey weights of 10 to 40 kg. In search of safety, panthers often stash their young or recent kills high up in a tree, which can be a great feat of strength considering that they may be carrying prey heavier than themselves in their the mouth while they climb vertically. One panther was seen to haul a calf, estimated to weigh up to 125 kg (280 lb), more than twice the weight of the cat, up 5.7 m (19 ft) into a tree.

Interspecific predatory relationships 

Unlike their Asian and African cousins, Welsh Panthers generally do not have to compete against other large predators, their largest rivals being the Welsh Puma (Puma Concolor Cambrensis), the Welsh Bobcat (Lynx Rufus Cambrensis), the Welsh Lynx (Lynx Lynx Cambrensis) and the Fox (Vulpes Vulpes). Welsh Panthers co-exist alongside the larger of these rivals - the Welsh Puma - by avoiding areas frequented by them.

Reproduction and life cycle

Welsh Panthers may mate all year round. The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4 cubs. But mortality of cubs is estimated at 41–50% during the first year. Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in color with less defined spots. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18–24 months. Welsh Panthers can have a lifespan of up to 21 years.

Variant coloration

Melanism is a common feature in the Welsh Panther. It is caused by a recessive allele. Close examination of the color of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still present, but are hidden by the excess black pigment melanin, giving an effect similar to that of printed silk. This is called "ghost striping". Melanistic and non-melanistic animals can be littermates. It is thought that melanism may confer a selective advantage under certain conditions since outside of Wales it is more common in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Recent, preliminary studies also suggest that melanism might be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.

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