The wisdom of the leopard
Cecilia Arhin Daily Graphic - Accra May 2003
TRADITIONALISTS and conservationists perceive it as elegant and majestic. It is known to portray wisdom with some tribes especially in Northern Ghana and the Paramount Chief of the Akyem Abuakwa using it as their crest or symbol.
Although the Leopard is a mammal belonging to the feline or the big cat group such as the lion and cheetahs, it has unique features. Leopards are carnivorous, secretive, sensitive and not sociable. They are often seen in singles; one male or a female. They only come together during mating and after that each finds its way.
Mrs Vivian Nuhu, Education Officer of the Ghana Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, disclosed this in an interview in Accra.
Called "Osebo," or "Otwi," in Twi (local dialect) the scientific name is panthera Pardus. It is a wholly protected species. Leopards live in deserts, rain forests and in high mountains. Because they are secretive, Mrs Nuhu explains, they hunt on their own and their food includes mammals, reedbucks, large antelopes, lions, apes, baboons, birds, snakes, fish and domestic dogs, fish and tortoises. They normally first weaken their victims and overcome them then eat parts and carry or climb trees with the rest. The Leopard climbs trees by crawling using the palm as pads.
Leopards hunt for monkeys, antelopes, duikers, royal antelopes (adowa) and also eat fish as well as guinea fowls.
Mrs Nuhu said, enough studies have not been carried out on leopards in Ghana, adding that they are mostly found in Mole, Gbele, Bia, Ankasa and Kakum National Parks. They get pregnant for three months and bring forth two to three kids. Females experience heat at 20 and 50 days intervals over a six to seven-day period.
Baby leopards (cubs) are delivered in rock crevices, hollow trees, thickets and reedy nests. They suck for three months and commence independent life from one to two years and attain sexual maturity within two to three years.
Lumbering, bushfires, destruction of vegetation for farming and mining, degradation of their habitat all pose a serious threat to the existence of the leopard.
Their source of food is also reducing and this compels them to raid farms and homes in search of food to survive.
Mrs Nuhu says it is unfortunate that many people do not appreciate the importance of leopards to mankind, the ecology, among others. She said leopards control the population of baboons by feeding on them.
She said leopards assist in the propagation of seeds as they stick to the fur of leopards.
It has some traditional and cultural uses as some tribes have adopted leopards as their totems or symbols. The skin of the leopard is worn by prominent people including traditional authorities, chiefs and warriors to symbolise how aggressive they are. Some chiefs put on leopard skin to show their superiority. The Okyenhene uses it as a crest.
Traditional medical practitioners believe that the skin of the leopard is an antidote to bad omen and is also used as a talisman. She revealed that the Wildlife Division has adopted the leopard as a totem in educating people on its significance.
Mrs Nuhu added that it is an offence to trade in its skin or use it as clothing. It is important for wildlife officers, conservationists, environmental journalists and educationists to educate the masses on the importance of the leopard in efforts to prevent its extinction.
Bushfires, hunters and all those who destroy the habitats of leopards should be severely punished.
Mrs Nuhu said educating of the publics on importance of wild animals and plants in the environment will to some extend give some solution to the existing environmental problem in the country.
She stated that, if one is to depend on the economic difficulties, we will end up exporting all the natural gifts that was given to us by God.
There is also the need to empower and equip forest and wildlife officers to patrol and enforce laws on wildlife protection.
Mrs Nuhu appealed to the sector ministry to assist the government to achieve this aim.