Spends much of the time high in the trees!
Leopard Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Panthera pardus
Leopard Conservation Status
- Deer, Warthog, Rodents
- Name Of Young
- Group Behavior
- Fun Fact
- Spends much of the time high in the trees!
- Estimated Population Size
- Biggest Threat
- Trophy hunting and habitat loss
- Most Distinctive Feature
- Dense patterned fur and long, sharp teeth
- Other Name(s)
- Gestation Period
- 90 - 105 days
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The leopard is a medium-sized wildcat that is found in a variety of different habitats across sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Distinguished by their uniquely beautiful “spotted” coat, leopards are apex predators that ambush prey from a perch in the trees. This hunting method is unlike their big cat cousins who engage their prey in high-speed chases.
Anatomy and Appearance
The leopard is an animal with a long, lithe body that is supported by powerful legs and a long tail that is used for balance in the trees. Leopards can vary greatly in their coloration and markings depending on their surrounding habitat, with those found on open grasslands having a light yellow, sun-bleached background coat whereas those that are found in forests tend to be darker to blend into the shade and with more markings for camoflauge.
The dark, ring-like patterns that cover the leopard’s coat are called rosettes, but these turn into solid spots on the face and limbs (and rings on the tail) and provide the leopard with camouflage into the surrounding environment. Leopards are incredibly strong and muscular animals and are able to pull themselves up trees using their legs and retractable claws. Like a number of other large feline species, the leopard is able to draw its claws into folds of skin on their paws to ensure that they are not blunted whilst the animal is walking about. Their remarkable eyesight and hearing give them a great advantage while night hunting.
The first mammals are believed to have lived 208 million years ago – after the extinction of dinosaurs. The first carnivores came from animals known as miacoids about 60 million years ago. These tree dwellers were about the size of a domestic cat and had developed sharp crushing teeth. Miacoids are the oldest relative to the modern-day leopard.
Carnivores split into two groups – Carniformia and Feliformia – around 40 million years ago. The Carniformia group was more bear-like and evolved into bears, dogs, weasels, raccoons, skunks, badgers, sea lions, walruses, and seals. Feliformia was more cat-like and evolved into cats, hyenas, and mongooses.
Proailurus, the oldest cat, appeared in France 30 million years ago. This aboreal creature weighed around 25 pounds and had eight more teeth than modern cats. 20 Million years ago, the direct ancestor of modern cats, Pseudaelurines, was found in the fossil record. Around 1.6 million years ago, the saber-tooth tiger, Smilodon, was found in fossil records discovered in the La Brea tar pits in California. These big cats became extinct around 10,000 years ago.
There are seven different sub-species of leopard that differ in their appearance and geographic location, with the African leopard being the most common and widespread.
- African leopards, Panthera pardus pardus, can be seen in a variety of African habitats including deserts, forests, mountains, and coastlines. They are known for their speed and agility and are able to carry heavy prey up trees with ease.
- Amur Leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis, is native to southeastern Russia and northern China. This critically endangered animal is considered one of the rarest cats on earth.
- Anatolian Leopard, Panthera pardus tulliana, is native to Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The last official sighting of the Anatolian leopard occurred in 1974 after the animal was killed following an attack on a woman. Some scientists have declared it extinct while others believe there are still 10-15 Anatolian leopards in the wild.
- Barbary Leopard, Panthera pardus panthera, sometimes called the North African leopard, lives in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. They were thought to be extinct but a small population survives.
- Sinai Leopard, Panthera pardus jarvisi, is a critically endangered big cat native to the Arabian Peninsula. It lives in mountainous uplands and steppes.
- South Arabian Leopard, Panthera pardus nimir, is also native to the Arabian Peninsula and is also critically endangered. It is the smallest member of the leopard family and adapted to life in the desert.
- Zanzibar Leopard, Panthera pardus pardus, was a large African leopard who last lived on Unguja Island in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Declared extinct in the mid-1990s, the Zanzibar leopard was the island’s largest carnivore and an apex predator.
Leopards have not only the widest range of all Big Cats but are actually one of the most adaptable and are found in a variety of different habitats. Commonly found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, there are also small and isolated populations of leopards inhabiting remote geographic locations in the Far East, Northern Africa, and Arabia. The leopard can be found inhabiting numerous different areas providing that there is a good source of cover and an ample supply of food including tropical rainforests, tree-lined savannas, barren deserts, and mountain highlands. One of the reasons why they are thought to be still surviving successfully throughout much of their natural range is that leopards have adapted to the growing presence of people and are known to both live and hunt in areas close to urban activity. However, in some parts of their natural range populations are threatened by the loss of their natural habitats to both deforestation and growing settlements.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Leopards are solitary animals that hunt both on the ground and in the trees. They are excellent climbers and spend the vast majority of the daytime hours resting in the shade of the branches in the trees or under a sheltered rock. They are quite unique amongst large felines as leopards rely heavily on being able to get close enough to their prey before ambushing it, rather than expelling vast amounts of energy in a high-speed chase. Once caught and killed, the prey is then dragged to safety either into dense vegetation or up a tree trunk and into the branches. Leopards are solitary animals that mark their territory using scent markings and by producing rough, rasping calls that are said to sound like sawing through coarse wood. Home range sizes vary depending on the habitat and the food available but those of male leopards are significantly larger than those of their female counterparts, which often overlap the ranges of a number of both males and other females (sometimes by up to 40%).
Check out some incredible facts about leopards.
Reproduction and Life Cycles
Throughout their natural range, leopards have no distinctive breeding season with females instead being able to reproduce every couple of months. After a gestation period that lasts for around three months, the female leopard gives birth to between 2 and 6 cubs that are born blind and weigh just half a kilo. Leopard cubs are incredibly vulnerable in the wild and so remain hidden in dense vegetation until they are able to follow their mother around at between 6 and 8 weeks of age, camouflaged by their dark, woolly fur and blurry spots. Weaned at around three months old, leopard cubs will remain with their mother for another 18 months until she is ready to mate again and encourages their young to independently establish their own territories. Although male leopards live solitary lives except when mating, female leopards’ range tends to overlap their mothers. Leopards tend to live for between ten and fifteen years in the wild, depending on the habitat and the food supply available.
Diet and Prey
Leopards primarily hunt medium-sized mammals such as deer and warthogs, that are often ambushed from the branches above or dense vegetation just meters away. The leopard, however, also eats a wide variety of small prey including birds, reptiles, and rodents even hunting Dung Beetles when larger animals are scarce. By eating much smaller (and a wider variety) of prey leopards are able to avoid intense competition for food from other large carnivores like tigers and hyenas, with which they share parts of their natural range. Leopards are incredibly strong and are capable of taking prey much heavier than themselves such as antelopes, which are then remarkably hauled into the safety of the branches to either be eaten immediately or cached (saved for later).
Predators and Threats
Due to the fact that the leopard is a stealthy and apex predator throughout its natural environment, generally, the biggest threat to adult leopards are other leopards, along with the occasional lion or tiger that can get close enough.
Nile crocodiles which also pose a threat due to their immense strength, extreme aggression, and willingness to sink their fangs into anything, have been known to take on leopards crossing bodies of water and win.
Pythons are another especially formidable foe and have been known to overpower these beautiful apex predators.
Young leopard cubs however are much more vulnerable and the fact that they have numerous natural predators leads them to remain hidden in dense vegetation for their first couple of months. Although, it is during the times when their mother is off hunting that leopard cubs are most at threat from hyenas, jackals, lions, tigers, snakes, and birds of prey. Despite their adaptability to differing surroundings, leopard populations in parts of their natural range are declining due to habitat loss to the timber industry and agriculture and hunting by humans as trophies and for their meat and fur.
Interesting Facts and Features
Originally thought to be a hybrid of thelLion and the jaguar, the leopard has been the subject of much genetic confusion and wasn’t really distinguished properly until just over 100 years ago. Some of the confusion is thought to come from the black panther which is a leopard that has a completely black coat of fur, with occasional faint markings. Known as melanism, the genetic mutation that causes large amounts of dark pigment to occur in the skin and fur is exhibited by a number of mammalian species. Black panthers tend to occur most in dense forests with larger populations being found in southern Asia than in Africa and are born into a litter that also contains yellow cubs. Black panthers are actually fairly common and amazingly enough, it is thought that up to 50% of the leopards found inhabiting the thick, tropical rainforests of the Malay Peninsula are black.
Relationship with Humans
Since big game hunting took off in Africa, the leopard has been one of the most sought-after animals for hunters to kill. Part of the African “Big Five” which are the most desirable animals for sports hunters, leopards in some areas particularly have been severely affected by trophy hunting. In many places, leopards are also often persecuted by local people who kill them for their meat and fur, and also because they are seen as pests to farms and livestock due to their lack of fear of people (although they are very seldom seen). However, recent booms in the tourist industry in Africa have meant that more and more people are paying for the privilege to see one of these majestic animals in the wild, bringing money into local communities. This leads to leopards being more protected by local people rather than persecuted, as leopards are providing an important and new-found source of good income for the local people.
Conservation Status and Life Today
Today, the Leopard is listed by the IUCN as being an animal that is Not Extinct in its natural environment as populations are stable throughout much of its vast natural range. A number of leopard sub-species, however, are considered to be either Endangered or Critically Endangered in their native habitats and one is thought to now be extinct. This is thought to be due to the fact that these populations are either small or geographically isolated and are severely affected by local hunting and habitat loss. For example, the Javan leopard from the Indonesian island of Java is one of the most endangered animals in the world. In a number of African countries, however, leopards are still legally hunted as trophies by sports hunters with annual quotas allocated by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
Read About More Big Cats…animals that start with L
Leopard FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are Leopards herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Leopards are Carnivores, meaning they eat other animals.
What Kingdom do Leopards belong to?
Leopards belong to the Kingdom Animalia.
What phylum do Leopards belong to?
Leopards belong to the phylum Chordata.
What class do Leopards belong to?
Leopards belong to the class Mammalia.
What family do Leopards belong to?
Leopards belong to the family Felidae.
What order do Leopards belong to?
Leopards belong to the order Carnivora.
What genus do Leopards belong to?
Leopards belong to the genus Panthera.
What type of covering do Leopards have?
Leopards are covered in Fur.
Where do Leopards live?
Leopards live in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.
In what type of habitat do Leopards live?
Leopards live in rainforests, grasslands, and mountainous regions.
What are some predators of Leopards?
Predators of Leopards include tigers, lions, and humans.
How many babies do Leopards have?
The average number of babies a Leopard has is 3.
What is an interesting fact about Leopards?
Leopards spend much of their time high in the trees!
What is the scientific name for the Leopard?
The scientific name for the Leopard is Panthera pardus.
What is the lifespan of a Leopard?
Leopards can live for 10 to 15 years.
What is a baby Leopard called?
A baby Leopard is called a cub.
How many species of Leopard are there?
There are 7 species of Leopard.
What is the biggest threat to the Leopard?
The biggest threats to the Leopard are trophy hunting and habitat loss.
What is another name for the Leopard?
The Leopard is also called the panther.
How fast is a Leopard?
A Leopard can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
Who will win a fight between a leopard and a panther?
The biggest differences between a leopard and a panther are their size, color, and power. Panthers are larger than leopards since we are using the biologyof a jaguar to populate their physical statistics. Panthers can weigh upwards of 300lbs, but leopards max out at 198lbs. That disparity is significant and impactful in the fight.
Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Leopard and a Lion?
A lion would win a fight against a leopard because it is stronger, has better defenses, and regularly deals with prey larger than the leopard.
Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Leopard and a Gorilla?
A leopard would win a fight against a gorilla. It is too fast and vicious for a strong gorilla to fight off.
Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Leopard and a Hyena?
A leopard would win a fight against a hyena. The big cat is too skilled and deadly for the hyena to beat in a fight. Hyenas are used to fighting with backup in the form of their pack mates. However, they would come into this fight alone, putting them at an instant disadvantage.
Meanwhile, leopards live, hunt, and fight alone. Moreover, they take down big prey all by themselves. If the leopard was allowed to ambush the hyena, the fight would be over in seconds with the leopard’s mouth around its enemy’s neck.
Who would win the fight between a leopard and a tiger?
In the battle of leopard vs tiger, the tiger would win. Tigers often prey on leopards to take their kill or in defense of their territory.
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- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
- Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
- Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals
- About Leopards, Available here: http://www.awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/leopard
- Leopard Information, Available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/15954/0