Does that sound a bit strange – perhaps even thoroughly odd? In fact it’s a common behaviour among big cats, especially leopards. Just a few days ago, in mid-January 2017, a young female leopard was killed by a larger leopard in Dorfak No Hunting Area in Gilan province, northwestern Iran. The leopard, which appeared to have been suffocated judging by bite marks to the neck, was almost two years old based on its dental characteristics. She was found by local people in the area who reported to our colleagues in Gilan’s Department of the Environment. Part of the body, from the front of the chest to more than midway down the abdominal cavity, had been consumed by some other animal. If in fact she was partly eaten by her killer, this would be the first confirmed case of leopard cannibalism in the Middle East.
Coincidentally, this young female was killed just one year after one of our collared leopards, a three-year-old female in Tandoureh, was killed by a larger individual in early February 2016. Intra-species strife is commonly considered to occur between males, but evidence shows that females are probably more targeted than was previously thought. A recent study has shown that more than 40% of female leopard mortalities in southern Africa are mediated by other leopards, i.e. they are killed by larger individuals. However, such behaviour was not known from Asian leopards, until last year when Future4Leopards reported for the first time the occurrence of a female mortality attributable to another leopard. This possibility must be borne in mind when translocation programs are implemented by conservationists to avoid the risk of young females becoming the victims of larger leopards.