Like most reptiles they retire during the winter into holes, in which they remain in a torpid state until the return of spring; and during this period they may be taken or destroyed without danger. Their flesh is eaten by the negroes, who also apply their fat, as well as their rattles, to various medicinal or superstitious uses.
Uniting to the system of dentition, the general habit and many of the most striking peculiarities of the cats, some of the distinguishing features and much of the intelligence, the teachableness, and the fidelity of the dog, the Hunting Leopard forms a sort of connecting link between two groups of animals, otherwise completely separated, and exhibiting scarcely any other character in common than the carnivorous propensities by which both are, in a greater or less degree, actuated and inspired. Intermediate in size and shape between the leopard and the hound, he is slenderer in his body, more elevated on his legs, and less flattened on the fore part of his head than the former, while he is deficient in the peculiarly graceful and lengthened form, both of head and body, which characterize the latter. His tail is entirely that of a cat; and his limbs, although more elongated than in any other species of that group, seem better fitted for strong muscular exertion than for active and long-continued speed. From these indications it may be gathered that he approaches much more nearly to the feline than to the canine group: we shall therefore follow the example of zoologists in general, by referring him for the present and provisionally to the genus Felis, and proceed to point out more particularly the characters by which he is connected with, as well as those by which he is distinguished from, the rest of that formidable and extensive tribe.
The habits of the Hy?nas are entirely nocturnal: while in the daytime their cowardice is so excessive that they fly from the face of man, and suffer themselves, when taken, to be ill treated with impunity and even without attempting to avenge themselves, they prowl abroad in the stillness of the night with all the temerity of brutal daring. They will frequently make prey of the lesser animals, and will occasionally venture to attack dogs and even horses; but it is seldom that they muster up sufficient courage to contend with living man, unless stimulated by strong provocation, or impelled by the most violent cravings of hunger. Congregated in numerous bands they beset the encampment of the traveller, or infest the neighbourhood of villages or even of towns, which they enter with the fall of night and do not quit until the dawn of day; disturbing the inhabitants with their peculiar moaning or wailing, which is in some measure intermediate between a grunt and a howl. Parading the streets and penetrating into the houses in search of prey, they eagerly devour the offal of animals, the refuse of the daily meal, or whatever else that is in any way eatable may happen to fall in their way. Nothing, however filthy, comes amiss to their voracious appetites, which are indeed unbounded. They even break into the cemeteries of the dead, and tearing open the graves by means of their powerful claws, disinter the buried corpses, on which they glut that horrid propensity for feeding on carrion, which is at once the most striking and the most disgusting of their peculiarities. Their fondness for this polluted species of food tends of course not a little to increase the natural antipathy with which they are regarded by the natives of the countries in which they abound, and renders them objects of peculiar detestation and abhorrence. The great size and strength of their teeth and the immense power of their jaws enable them to crush the largest bones with comparative facility, and account for the avidity with which they prey upon an almost fleshless skeleton. In the daytime they retire into caves, from which they issue only when the shades of evening warn them that the hour for their depredations has arrived. Their gait is awkward and usually slow and constrained; when scared, however, from their prey, or when pursued by the hunter, they fly with tolerable swiftness, but still with an appearance of lameness in their motions, resulting from the constant bending of their posterior legs.