What is a hunting leopard?

The name ‘hunting leopard’ was generally used for the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) until recent times. The name fell into disuse because it caused confusion with the name of the true leopard (common leopard) – Panthera pardus.

Hunting leopard  - a domesticated cheetah
Hunting leopard – a domesticated cheetah. “Akbar Hunting with Cheetahs”, Folio from an Akbarnama 1604.
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So a hunting leopard would be a cheetah in the old days. The name ‘hunting leopard’ does not make sense in any other context. It can’t be used for the common leopard because all leopards hunt so why attach the word ‘hunting’ before ‘leopard’?

In the 19th century the cheetah was widely used by the rich in Asia for hunting game. They were semi-domesticated cheetahs. Cheetahs are relatively easy to tame and can become friendly with humans thereby making them ideal companions on hunting trips.

Local rulers kept large numbers of cheetahs, sometimes huge numbers and caracals incidentally. Caracals are smaller than cheetahs but excellent hunters and they too can be tamed in a like manner.

The hunting cheetahs of a bygone age were trained like dogs and they walked on a leash. It seems they were sometimes hooded like birds of prey. It is interesting to note that in Dubai today the cheetah is still ‘used’ in this way as a status symbol sitting in the passenger seat of a flash car with a collar and lead.

Cheetah in UAE (probably Dubai)
Cheetah in car in UAE (probably Dubai)

They were valued highly (financially) and still are which is detrimental to their conservation in the wild. Richard Lydekker writing in 1896 said that they were carefully transported to the hunting area and ‘carried on an elephant or on horseback on a pad behind the rider, but more generally on a cart made for the purpose, drawn by oxen…On approaching game, the animal is unhooded and slipped [freed]…’

Hunting cheetah were used during the Mogul Empire which was founded in 1526. It is said that..

“some of the emperors, in their great hunting expeditions, were accompanied to the field by a thousand hunting leopards..”

Here is a video showing hunting with cheetahs from 1939:

Just a stage in the cheetah's history. I estimate that the cheetah was first discovered 200k years ago.
Just a stage in the cheetah’s history. Cheetah on a leash in ancient times.

Hunting with cheetahs became a popular pastime at the royal courts of Europe as the fashion spread from Turkey via Armenia. Apparently there is a record of Louis XI of France hunting rats in his apartments with a hunting cheetah during rainy weather!

My thanks to Dr Desmond Morris (Cat World) for some of the details for this article.


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