Yes, leopards eat monkeys but it depends on where the leopard is living. They have an enormous distribution, the largest of all the wild cat species. In “some forested areas leopards take a surprisingly large number of monkeys”1. This should not surprise us because leopards catch prey opportunistically, killing vulnerable animals wherever they are encountered. Leopards take whatever they can catch. In many areas its diet consists of small to medium-sized mammals up to 45 kg in weight. Leopards eat a wider range range of prey than most other wild cat species, including monkeys were available.
In the Taï National Park, Ivory Coast, seven species of primates made up almost three-quarters of all prey when added together with seven species of duiker. Also, in the Ituri Forest, Democratic Republic of the Congo, primates are a common item in the diet of leopards. A study found that the remains of 11 of 13 species of diurnal (daytime activity) primates were present in the faeces of leopards in the Ituri Forest.
In the Meru-Betiri Reserve, Java, where most of the ungulates that the leopard would have preyed upon have been eliminated the main prey animal of the leopard is primates. In 65% of scats, the remains of leaf monkeys and macaques were found in a study.
Also baboons are occasionally attacked, killed and eaten by leopards in the Taï National Park. Scientists believe that the predation on chimpanzees by leopards in this park are a major cause of their mortality.
Leopards panic monkeys from trees
It seems that the monkey is able to avoid being attacked by leopard but they are tricked out of the safety of trees by this canny wild cat species. Leopards caught langurs by “feigning climbing the tree they were in, and when the monkeys jumped to the ground to escape, they were easily captured”.
One scientist, Dunbar Brander, reports in a study of two leopards hunting langurs in a large victory (langurs are a a genus of Old World monkey native to the Indian subcontinent). One leopard was on the first branch and the other was well up the tree. The langurs could have climbed higher to safety but did not. They panicked and some of the monkeys lept from the top of the tree to an outer branch and then onto the ground. This exposed them to an attack by the leopards. It appears to be not untypical for monkeys to leave the safety of trees in panic whereupon they are pursued successfully by leopards. In short, they bail out in fear. In another report, a redtail monkey in Africa was seen to panic when a leopard climbed the tree it was in. The monkey was caught on the ground by the leopard.
The photo on this page is extraordinary. The leopard was a young female who appeared to be enjoying the hunt of a baby monkey. She caught the monkey three times and let it go three times. The monkey suffered a relatively minor injury from a claw but apparently escaped. The picture is testament to the extraordinary climbing skills of the leopard. They are one of the few cat species to be able to descend trees headfirst. They are capable of climbing the highest tree. One was seen “scampering up the sheer wall-like trunk of a tree that measured 20 feet around” 1.
1. Sunquists in Wild Cats of the World.
2. If you are interested in full references please ask in a comment and I’ll provide them promptly. Thanks.
P.S. The information is provided as at 2002 from studies carried out before that date. Things change obviously not in terms of leopard behavior but in terms of whether they exist in an area or not because they are gradually being reduced in number.