Why Do Leopards Have Long Tails?

In a previous post, some time ago, I explained why snow leopards have very long tails and this answer is along similar lines.

Leopard showing the tail --Sabie-Sand nature reserve, South Africa. Photo: Royalty Free.
Leopard showing the tail –Sabie-Sand nature reserve, South Africa. Photo: Royalty Free.
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Mel and Fiona Sunquist in their book Wild Cats Of The World describe the leopard’s tail as:

“The long, thin tail is about 60 to 75 percent of the head and body length….Leopards have a head and body length of 1 to 1.5 meters, although there are a few records of animals measuring almost 2 meters.”

They also state, tellingly in their superb book:

“Like many of the smaller cat species, leopards are superb climbers, agile and at ease in the trees. They are capable of scaling even the largest free, and one was seen scampering up the sheer wall-like trunk of a tree that measured 20 feet around. The mark of a truly accomplished climber is the ability to come down a tree headfirst, and the leopard is one of only a handful of felids [cats] that are skilful enough to descend in this manner.”

Leopard escapes lion in tree
Leopard escapes lion in tree. Photo: Derick Benezet Kaijage and Caters News Agency.

As stated, the leopard is a wonderful tree climber. We frequently see this superb wild cat species in trees. They carry prey into trees and they often climb to the top of quite large trees.

This animal’s tail serves as a means of balance when climbing. The greater the need for balance in the activities of a wild cat species the longer the length of tail. The longest of all the tails on any cat on the planet is the one which is attached to the snow leopard. The common leopard has a narrower tail than the snow leopard’s but is nonetheless impressive and as stated up to 3/4 of the length of the head and body of the cat.

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