LEOPARDS are few in number considering the great extent of cover, and they wander about so much in their search for prey that no one ever thinks of going specially after them. They are, however, not infrequently seen by sportsmen when after other game, being met strolling along jungle-paths, as is their peculiar habit, or are caught sight of as they spring out of trees where they were lying in wait for deer and pigs, or are come on lying asleep in the sun, generally on rocks. They always bolt under these circumstances and are so quick in their movements that as a rule only snap shots are obtained.
Driving them by beaters out of the forest towards spots where sportsmen have posted themselves with their rifles has been tried but generally unsuccessfully. It should only be attempted when one is known to be lying up in some isolated patch or strip of jungle such as are found in the coast forests.
Most leopards killed are shot from ambushes when they have come to feed on cattle and game they have killed. On receiving news of a "kill" the first thing to be ascertained is whether the leopard believed to have done the deed is a " rogue " or not. If the former, it will be useless to sit up for it, as it will not return to the carcase for a second meal. It may, however, return to the "kill" two or three days after the first meal being driven to do so by failure to catch any other animal meanwhile.
In fixing on the site for the ambush it is not absolutely necessary to consider the direction of the wind as the eopard, in consequence no doubt of defective power of smell, will come up the wind towards the spot without hesitation. It is more important that the ambush should be well hidden. If a tree stands conveniently near the "kill " it is best to have a platform or perch of poles and sticks built in it. It should be not less than six or eight feet from the ground, both to escape detection as a leopard rarely looks upward unless its attention be directed there, and because it is safer as a crippled brute unable to get away sometimes makes furious efforts to get at its assailants. The platform should be well screened with twigs not only in front but behind, as the leopard may come from any direction, sometimes from the rear, passing directly under the ambush to the " kill." A hole, a few inches square should be left to look and fire through. Men have sometimes used native cots from the village in the construction of ambushes but have generally repented it, finding them to be full of bugs.
It is dangerous to fire from an ambush on the ground or in a hole. Native hunters have lost their lives through firing at leopards standing on a level with them and facing them. On receiving the shot the brute is likely to bound forward in its surprise and terror and if it lands near the crouching man is certain to attack him furiously, perhaps inflicting fatal injuries before falling dead a few moments later.
As little noise as possible should be made in cutting the poles and sticks for the construction of the ambush as the leopard, if gorged, is probably lying in the jungle not far off, twitching its round ears and blinking its fierce eyes .as it listens to the preparations being made for its destruction. It is in fact better to bring all the materials for the platform from some distance. There is no harm in talking and laughing in ordinary tones, but low voices and stealthy movements are likely to excite the brute's suspicions. When all is ready, the men who have been assisting in making the ambush and who are not going to sit up should be directed to go off to camp talking loudly or singing, which will give the leopard, if in the vicinity, the idea that the coast is clear and it will soon put in an appearance.
If the "kill" is lying in dense scrub or in any othet́ inconvenient position it may safely be dragged out into some more open spot. The leopard will suspect nothing, thinking probably that it had been dragged away by some other wild beast. Some natives imagine that if any animal killed falls on its left side the brute which caught it will only eat of it once, but the idea has no foundation in fact.
The time when a leopard may be expected to return to the "kill," depends very much on when it caught its victim. If this happened during the night the probability is that the brute will be ready for another meal early next afternoon and that it will make its appearance a short time before sun set. The first indication of its approach may possibly be the excited barking of monkeys in the vicinity. Should jackals be tearing the carcase and they suddenly lift their heads, make a whining cry and then bolt, it is pretty certain that the brute is close at hand. On arriving at the edge of the open spot where the "kill" is lying a leopard usually stops and looks round. If its suspicions are in any way roused it may sit up on its hind quarters to get a better view. Sometimes, instead of going straight to the carcase, it will slink round through the jungle and approach it from the other side. Its movements are so silent that often the hunter watching for it has no idea that it is near till he sees the great spotted, long-tailed cat step daintily out of the jungle.
Most men, on catching sight of the brute, are in such a hurry to shoot as to imperil their chances of killing it. If instead of going up to the "kill" it stops and steadfastly gazes in the direction of the ambush no time should be lost in firing, but if it goes straight to the carcase there is plenty of time and it should not be fired at till it stands still, broadside on, and offers a perfectly certain shot. Another reason for waiting is that there may be two of them afoot, one following the other a few moments later.
On approaching the " kill" and after sniffing it, leopards often purr with pleasure ; they also sometimes frisk about and roll on the carcase in their satisfaction at the prospect of a gorge.
They are exceedingly tenacious of life, and even though mortally wounded often manage to get away. If their backs or limbs are broken and they are unable to move from the spot they will lie clawing the ground furiously, snapping their jaws and uttering loud fierce growls.
It is very dangerous to follow wounded leopards through dense forest. Native hunters have sometimes found to their cost that the brutes, though crippled or shot through the lungs, had sufficient vitality and strength left to tear the life out of their pursuers.
Attempts to shoot leopards over live baits are almost always failures. They are such wandering creatures that the chance of one being in the neighbourhood and being attracted to the bait is very small. It is only worth trying when one has got into the habit of going, night after night, to some village after calves and goats. It is, in such case, probably a female with young cubs and consequently not able to range far for food. The best bait is a kid on account of its loud and continual bleating, but they cannot easily be got, goats being rare in jungle villages. Calves are also difficult to obtain as natives will not sell them. Tying up pariah dogs is of little use.
A cur that in the village would "make night hideous" with its barks and howls will, on being tied up in the jungle, instantly realize its danger and become as mute as a fish.
Leopards are sometimes caught by natives in cage-traps made of strong jungle- sticks and baited, also by means of a noose of hide rope attached to a powerful spring made of a pliant young stapling which lifts the caught animal bodily into the air. They are also killed in dead-fall traps made of strong wooden frames heavily weighted with stones. Europeans stationed in wild districts have had large steel spring-traps made and used them with success in catching these animals. Spring guns are sometimes set for their destruction but, as they are illegal and dangerous to human beings and also unsportsmanlike, it is unnecessary to explain how they may most effectively be set. Poisoning the carcase of an animal killed is only excusable in the case of a " rogue " leopard which will not return to "kills" and cannot be otherwise disposed of.
When a leopard has been shot the skull should always be kept and the skin taken off in such a way that the head may be stuffed which will greatly add to the appearance of the handsome rug into which the skin may be made. The claws are often set in gold as brooches. Care should be taken to prevent natives cutting off the whiskers which are valued by them ; some believing them to be deadly poison if chopped up fine and administered in food, and others that they have much virtue in the preparation of charms.