Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
|Present and historical distribution of the leopard|
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the five extant
The leopard was first
It is adapted to a variety of habitats ranging from
It is listed as
The English name "leopard" comes from Old French leupart or Middle French liepart, that derives from Latin leopardus and ancient Greek λέοπάρδος (leopardos). Leopardos could be a compound of λέων (leōn), meaning 'lion', and πάρδος (pardos), meaning 'spotted'. The word λέοπάρδος originally referred to a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus).
"Panther" is another common name, derived from Latin panther and ancient Greek πάνθηρ (pánthēr);
The leopard's fur is generally soft and thick, notably softer on the belly than on the back. Its skin colour varies between individuals from pale yellowish to dark golden with dark spots grouped in rosettes. Its underbelly is white and its ringed tail is shorter than its body. Its pupils are round. Leopards living in arid regions are pale cream, yellowish to ochraceous and rufous in colour; those living in forests and mountains are much darker and deep golden. Spots fade toward the white underbelly and the insides and lower parts of the legs. Rosettes are circular in East African leopard populations, and tend to be squarish in Southern African and larger in Asian leopard populations. The fur tends to be grayish in colder climates, and dark golden in rainforest habitats. Rosette patterns are unique in each individual. This pattern is thought to be an adaptation to dense vegetation with patchy shadows, where it serves as camouflage.
Its white-tipped tail is about 60–100 cm (23.6–39.4 in) long, white underneath and with spots that form incomplete bands toward the end of the tail. The guard hairs protecting the basal hairs are short, 3–4 mm (0.1–0.2 in) in face and head, and increase in length toward the flanks and the belly to about 25–30 mm (1.0–1.2 in). Juveniles have woolly fur that appear to be dark-coloured due to the densely arranged spots. Its fur tends to grow longer in colder climates. The leopard's rosettes differ from those of the
Melanistic leopards are also known as Leopards exhibiting erythrism were recorded between 1990 and 2015 in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve and in Mpumalanga. The cause of this morph known as a "strawberry leopard" or "pink panther" is not well understood.
The leopard is a slender and muscular cat, with relatively short limbs and a broad head. It is
The largest recorded skull of a leopard was found in India in 1920 and measured 28 cm (11 in) in
Felis pardus was the
The leopard was designated as the type species of Panthera by Joel Asaph Allen in 1902. In 1917, Reginald Innes Pocock also subordinated the tiger (P. tigris), lion (P. leo), and jaguar (P. onca) to Panthera.
Following Linnaeus' first description, 27 leopard
In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group recognized the following eight subspecies as valid taxa:
|African leopard (P. p. pardus) (Linnaeus, 1758)||It is the most widespread leopard subspecies and is native to most of Sub-Saharan Africa.|
|Indian leopard (P. p. fusca) (Meyer, 1794)||It occurs in the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar and southern Tibet.|
|Javan leopard (P. p. melas) (Cuvier, 1809)||It is native to
|Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr) (Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1830)||It is native to the Arabian Peninsula, but considered locally extinct in the Sinai Peninsula. It is the smallest leopard subspecies.|
|Persian leopard (P. p. tulliana) (Valenciennes, 1856)||It is native to eastern
The Balochistan leopard population in the south of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is separated from the northern population by the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut deserts.
|Amur leopard (P. p. orientalis) (Schlegel, 1857)||It is native to the
|Indochinese leopard (P. p. delacouri) Pocock, 1930||It occurs in mainland Southeast Asia and
|Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) Deraniyagala, 1956||It is native to Sri Lanka.|
Results of an analysis of molecular variance and pairwise fixation index of 182 African leopard museum specimens showed that some African leopards exhibit higher genetic differences than Asian leopard subspecies.
Results of a phylogenetic analysis of chemical secretions amongst cats indicated that the leopard is closely related to the lion. The geographic origin of the Panthera is most likely northern Central Asia. The leopard-lion clade was distributed in the Asian and African
Fossils of leopard ancestors were excavated in
In Europe, the leopard occurred at least since the Pleistocene. Leopard-like fossil bones and teeth possibly dating to the
In 1953, a male leopard and a female lion were
Distribution and habitat
The leopard has the largest distribution of all wild cats, occurring widely in Africa, the Caucasus and Asia, although populations are fragmented and declining. It is considered to be extirpated in North Africa. It inhabits foremost savanna and rainforest, and areas where grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests remain largely undisturbed. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is still numerous and surviving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared. There is considerable potential for human-leopard conflict due to leopards preying on livestock.
Leopard populations in the Arabian Peninsula are small and fragmented. In southeastern Egypt, a leopard killed in 2017 was the first sighting of the species in this area in 65 years. In western and central Asia, it avoids deserts, areas with long snow cover and close proximity to urban centres.
In Java, leopards inhabit dense
In the Russian Far East, it inhabits temperate coniferous forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C (−13 °F).
Behaviour and ecology
The leopard is a solitary and
The whitish spots on the back of its ears are thought to play a role in communication. It has been hypothesized that the white tips of their tails may function as a 'follow-me' signal in
Leopards are mainly active from dusk till dawn and will rest for most of the day and some hours at night in thickets, among rocks or over tree branches. Leopards have been observed walking 1–25 km (0.62–15.53 mi) across their range at night; wandering up to 75 km (47 mi) if disturbed. In some regions, they are nocturnal. In western African forests, they have been observed to be largely diurnal and hunting during twilight, when their prey animals are active; activity patterns vary between seasons.
Leopards can climb trees quite skillfully, often resting on tree branches and descending headfirst. They can run at over 58 km/h (36 mph; 16 m/s), leap over 6 m (20 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 m (9.8 ft) vertically.
In Kruger National Park, most leopards tend to keep 1 km (0.62 mi) apart. Males occasionally interact with their partners and cubs, and exceptionally this can extend beyond to two generations. Aggressive encounters are rare, typically limited to defending territories from intruders. In a South African reserve, a male was wounded in a male–male territorial battle over a carcass.
Males occupy home ranges that often overlap with a few smaller female home ranges, probably as a strategy to enhance access to females. In the Ivory Coast, the home range of a female was completely enclosed within a male's. Females live with their cubs in home ranges that overlap extensively, probably due to the association between mothers and their offspring. There may be a few other fluctuating home ranges belonging to young individuals. It is not clear if male home ranges overlap as much as those of females do. Individuals try to drive away intruders of the same sex.
A study of leopards in the Namibian farmlands showed that the size of home ranges was not significantly affected by sex, rainfall patterns or season; the higher the prey availability in an area, the greater the leopard population density and the smaller the size of home ranges, but they tend to expand if there is human interference. Sizes of home ranges vary geographically and depending on habitat and availability of prey. In the
Hunting and diet
The leopard is a
The largest prey killed by a leopard was reportedly a male eland weighing 900 kg (2,000 lb). A study in Wolong National Nature Reserve in southern China demonstrated variation in the leopard's diet over time; over the course of seven years, the vegetative cover receded, and leopards opportunistically shifted from primarily consuming tufted deer (Elaphodus cephalophus) to pursuing bamboo rats (Rhizomys sinense) and other smaller prey.
The leopard depends mainly on its acute senses of hearing and vision for hunting. It primarily hunts at night in most areas. In western African forests and Tsavo National Park, they have also been observed hunting by day. They usually hunt on the ground. In the Serengeti, they have been seen to ambush prey by descending on it from trees.
It stalks its prey and tries to approach as closely as possible, typically within 5 m (16 ft) of the target, and, finally, pounces on it and kills it by suffocation. It kills small prey with a bite to the back of the neck, but holds larger animals by the throat and strangles them. It caches kills up to 2 km (1.2 mi) apart. It is able to take large prey due to its powerful jaw muscles, and is therefore strong enough to drag carcasses heavier than itself up into trees; an individual was seen to haul a young giraffe weighing nearly 125 kg (276 lb) up 5.7 m (18 ft 8 in) into a tree. It eats small prey immediately, but drags larger carcasses over several hundred meters and caches it safely in trees, bushes or even caves; this behaviour allows the leopard to store its prey away from rivals, and offers it an advantage over them. The way it stores the kill depends on local topography and individual preferences, varying from trees in Kruger National Park to bushes in the plain terrain of the Kalahari.
Average daily consumption rates of 3.5 kg (7 lb 11 oz) were estimated for males and of 2.8 kg (6 lb 3 oz) for females.
Enemies and competitors
In parts of its range, the leopard is
While interspecies killing of full-grown leopards is generally rare, given the opportunity, both the tiger and lion readily kill and consume both young and adult leopards. In the Kalahari Desert, leopards frequently lose kills to brown hyenas, if they are unable to move the kill up a tree. Single brown hyenas have been observed charging at and displacing male leopards from kills. Lions occasionally fetch leopard kills from trees.
Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) occasionally prey on leopards. In one occasion, a large adult leopard was grabbed and consumed by a large crocodile while attempting to hunt along a river bank in Kruger National Park. Mugger crocodiles (C. palustris) reportedly killed an adult leopard in Rajasthan. An adult leopard was recovered from the stomach of a 5.5 m (18 ft 1 in) Burmese python (Python bivittatus). In the Serengeti National Park, troops of around 30–40 olive baboons (Papio anubis) were observed mobbing and attacking a female leopard and her cubs.
Reproduction and life cycle
In some areas, leopards mate all year round. In Manchuria and Siberia, they mate during January and February. On average, females begin to breed between the ages of 2½ and three, and males between the ages of two and three. The female's estrous cycle lasts about 46 days, and she is usually in heat for 6–7 days. The generation length of the leopard is 9.3 years. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4 cubs. The mortality rate of cubs is estimated at 41–50% during the first year. Lions and spotted hyenas are the biggest cause for leopard cub mortality during their first year. Male leopards are known to cause infanticide, in order to bring the female back into heat. Intervals between births average 15 to 24 months, but can be shorter, depending on the survival of the cubs.
Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree or thicket. Newborn cubs weigh 280–1,000 g (9.9–35.3 oz), and are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in colour with less defined spots. They begin to eat meat at around nine weeks. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, cubs can probably fend for themselves, but will remain with the mother for 18–24 months. After separating from their mother, sibling cubs may travel together for months. Both male and female leopards typically reach sexual maturity at 2–2⅓ years.
The average life span of a leopard is 12–17 years. The oldest leopard was a captive female that died at the age of 24 years, 2 months and 13 days.
The leopard is listed on
Between 2002 and 2012, at least four leopards were estimated to have been poached per week in India for the
Surveys in the Central African Republic's
In Java, the leopard is threatened by illegal hunting and trade. Between 2011 and 2019, body parts of 51 Javan leopards were seized including six live individuals, 12 skins, 13 skulls, 20 canines and 22 claws.
The leopard is considered
Leopards have been featured in art, mythology and folklore of many countries. In
In Rudyard Kipling's "How the Leopard Got His Spots", one of his Just So Stories, a leopard with no spots in the Highveld lives with his hunting partner, the Ethiopian. When they set off to the forest, the Ethiopian changed his brown skin, and the leopard painted spots on his skin. A leopard played an important role in the 1938 Hollywood film Bringing Up Baby. African chiefs, European queens, Hollywood actors and burlesque dancers wore coats made of leopard skins.
The leopard is a frequently used in
Attacks on people
The Leopard of Rudraprayag killed more than 125 people; the Panar Leopard was thought to have killed over 400 people. Both were shot by British hunter Jim Corbett. The spotted devil of Gummalapur killed about 42 people in Karnataka, India.
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