Leopards in Palestine
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Leopards in the Holy Land

Many literary sources,chiefly the Bible,note the presence of leopards all over Palestine (except for sandy regions).Ancient Near Eastern sources, including the Gilgamesh epic and Akkadian lists, indicate that leopards lived throughout the region (the Caucasus,Turkey,Syria,Iraq,Sinai,and Arabia).
Their existence in any region depended then - and still depends today - on the availability of the three basic conditions essential for leopards : suitable cover, to enable successful hunting;varied prey,to provide food;and minimal involvement with man and his economy.
Over the centuries,areas with these conditions gradually shrank.Woods and thickets were cleared and settled by man and his domestic animals;potential leopard prey was hunted down;and the leopards had no choice but to prey on domestic stock.
At the turn of the 20th century,leopards lived in all the wooded and hilly regions of Palestine,including Mount Carmel and the Judean Hills.However,by mid-century their distribution had declined drastically,and their populations were confined to two areas.One was the forested,deeply fissured regions of Galilee.The second area comprised the Judean Desert and the Naqab highlands,particularly the steep cleft landscapes that lie east of the watershed line.
Leopards occurred on a surprisingly large number of occasions in Palestine,even in recent years when the human population has greatly increased.Harrison (1968) mention that it has repeatedly appeared in Galilee,particularly near the Lebanese frontier.Hardy (1947) notes that in 1939 a female was shot near Safad,and the Beth Gordon settlement possesses a skin of one killed about 1938 near Elon,a locality where leopards appeared again in 1942 and 1943.According to Hardy,Aharoni obtained a specimen from Mount Carmel and it has occurred in the Jerusalem area,also on Mount Tabor and in Wadi Araba south of the Dead Sea.Von Lehmann (1965) knew of one killed in Wadi Daraja,on the west coast of the Dead Sea.A specimen from Bethoren,killed in 1910 was in the Schmitz collection (Anon 1946). Tristram (1866) knew of its occurrence in the Dead Sea Region,Mount Carmel,Gilead and Bashan.A specimen in the Tel Aviv University was obtained at Hanita in 1925,as well as another in 1952,one caught near Pekin in 1948,another near Kfar Aramu in 1952 and another near Ashona in 1956.It is remarkable how many of these records originate from quite a small area in the hills of Galilee;the area has evidently been visited by leopards for a long time,since it was recorded that during the earthquake at Safad in 1834 leopards entered the wrecked village from the hills.It has been supposed that they periodically enter northern Palestine from the mountains of south Lebanon and Mount Hermon.If this is the case it is curious that there are no reports of the animal yet available from those regions (Harrison 1968).
One specimen was obtained by P.E.Schmitz from El-Ammur,20 km from Jerusalem;it was for a female obtained in 1911,and it is in the Zoological Museum of Berlin.This specimen was described as Panthera pardus tulliana. Blake (1966,1967) noted one killed near Ain Turabi, north-west of the Dead Sea.
In 1965 a leopard attacked a Beduin shepherd in Upper Galilee;the animal was stabbed by the wounded shepherd,and they were both found lying side by side,alive but unable to move.The shepherd was fortunate indeed to survive this attack.A leopard cub captured in the same region in 1940 (Anon 1946) was taken to Safad,where the half-grown cub was eating 15-20 pounds of meat a day.Subsequently named Tedi,he was moved to Tel Aviv Zoo,where he grew into a fine and powerful adult described by Hardy (1947) as more heavily built than Indian leopards.Attempts to mate Tedi at first failed,indeed his courtship with a promising young female Indian panther proved fatal,for Tedi killed her with his strong paws (Harrison 1968,Khalaf 1983).

Der Arabische Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr).
A German Website on the Arabian Leopard. Webmaster: Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa.
The Leopards of Palestine*. By: Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa.
*Published in Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. No.41. May 2005.

Different subspecies
Palestine's northern leopards (Panthera pardus tulliana) are larger and darker in colour than the desert Nimer subspecies (Panthera pardus nimr),which is smaller,and lighter in both weight and colour.The leopards of the north had almost completely disappeared by the 1960s.The occasional reports of sightings are not always reliable.However,in recent years a few leopards(four)were reported in the north of Palestine.
The conditions are not suitable for the survival and development of the northern population. Although there is enough plant cover, and sufficient animals for prey (gazelle,hyrax,jackal,wild boar and porcupine), man and his activities may be a disturbing factor.
The leopards of Palestine's southern regions were totally unknown between the 1930s and 1964.In April of the latter year,however,an adult female leopard was killed by a Beduin in Wadi Tze'elim;the Beduin reported that her two cubs had fled the scene.In early 1967 Beduins again killed a young male leopard at Einot Qaneh (West Bank).
The Sinai Leopard (Panthera pardus jarvisi) lives in the Judean Desert.Leopards have penetrated much of the southern half of Palestine,from the En Gedi region near the Dead Sea,all the way down to the Elat Mountains.They are also seen on the Egyptian Sinai border in the Wadi Paran region.
Leopards are known for their ability to adapt to living almost anywhere,from lowland forest to mountains,and so the Sinai Leopard is not unique in its ability to survive in desert conditions.But a long-term study by the Zoologist Giora Ilani,has revealed some adaptations to a desert habitat that have never before been recorded.
Using radio telemetry,Ilani has been able to map out the individuals' territories.His 750 sq km study area contained eight females and five males,and was occasionally visited by stray males.As with other subspecies of leopard,males and females have their own territories,pairing up only for breeding.The male takes no responsibility for cub-rearing.
Ilani has,however,witnesses one aspect of breeding behaviour which has never been seen before -the rather grisly phenomenon of infanticide.A neighbouring male will encroach on a female's territory and kill her cubs sired by another male,as if aware that she will come into heat almost immediately,enabling him to mate with her and sire his own litter.In some cases,this has meant that a female has given birth annually.
Compared with other leopard-inhabited deserts,for example the Kalahari,the Judean Desert is exceptionally barren,providing few prey species.It is estimated that 96% of the Sinai leopards' diet consists of ibex and hyrax,which they are forced to hunt by day(at night,both species retreat to cliffs and ledges where they can hear the approach of a predator).Diurnal behaviour is uncommon in other leopards,which generally hunt small and medium-sized mammals at night and lie up in the day(Khalaf 1987).


Gazelle - The Palestinian Biological Bulletin