Leopards as taphonomic agents in dolomitic caves - Implications for bone accumulations in the hominid-bearing deposits of South Africa Academic Article uri icon


  • It has been hypothesised that leopards were significant contributors to the bone accumulations of the Plio-Pleistocene hominid-bearing caves of South Africa. Interpretations of leopard activity in these fossil caves were previously based upon reports of modern leopard behaviour in areas of southern Africa that were lacking in caves. In 1991 a leopard lair with an accompanying bone accumulation was discovered in a dolomitic cave on the John Nash Nature Reserve, South Africa. All of the bones in this cave could be unambiguously attributed to the activity of one individual leopard over a 1-year period. The resulting bone assemblage indicates that, when available, leopards will preferentially utilise the deep recesses of caves to the exclusion of trees when feeding, and that the size of prey leopards are capable of capturing, killing and transporting has previously been underestimated. The implications this may have for understanding the accumulation of fossils in the hominid-bearing caves of South Africa are that bones derived form leopards consuming prey in trees probably did not contribute significantly to the assemblages, and further that it is not necessary to invoke sabre-tooth cat involvement for the larger animals found in these assemblages. This modern cave probably represents a more appropriate model for the accumulation of bones in the fossil caves of the Sterkfontein Valley, and the assemblage is being continually monitored to view any and all taphonomic alterations that are occurring. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 4

author list (cited authors)

  • de Ruiter, D. J., & Berger, L. R.

citation count

  • 99

complete list of authors

  • de Ruiter, DJ||Berger, LR

publication date

  • January 2000