Panthera pardus

Quick Bio for Leopards:

Status: Near Threatened
have from 2-3 cubs, usually 2
Weight: 20-60 kg
Diet: Carnivore

Physical description of Leopards

One of the most distinctive cats, the leopard has a rosette pattern on its fur. Generally, creamy yellow in color, with black spots and a striped tail, the leopard is extremely well camouflaged. The different subspecies do have subtly different coloring and also different sizes. The cubs are not as yellow. Often more a brownish-grey color, and the spots are not as distinctly patterned. Of course, there are also the famous black panthers, such as the current “King of Kabini” in India. These are just melanistic leopards where the fur is as black as the rosettes.

Leopards are incredibly muscular animals and very well-proportioned. They are not the quickest of cats, preferring to hunt by stealth. They have somewhat shorter legs than other cats relative to their body size. This is used advantageously to be a fantastic climber and be able to drag prey bigger than the cat into safe, secure spots in trees. Depending on the subspecies, size can vary a bit. As is to be expected, those living in desert areas are a bit smaller than those living in the savannah.

Generally, male leopards weigh in at about 40-50 kg, and females are slightly smaller.

Leopard (Panthera Pardus) coming down a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Leopards like the safety of trees to get away from lions and hyenas.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Leopard (Panthera Pardus) coming down a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Leopards like the safety of trees to get away from lions and hyenas.

Distribution and habitat of Leopards

Panthera pardus is the most beautiful of the big cats. The muscular body and piercing eyes make it everybody’s favorite. Those whose only wish is to go on safari to see a lion but who then see a leopard are very quick to change their spots.

Leopards are the most widespread of cats. From South Africa to Eastern Siberia, the leopard lives in almost all habitats. Ranging through Arabia and into Southeast Asia, they cover the largest expanse of all the cats.

Though typically known as inhabiting the savanna in Africa, the leopard also lives in habitats from deserts to tropical rainforests. From open grassland to thick jungle.

Leopards live in nearly all possible biomes. In the near desert of Arabia, in the snowy birch forests of Siberia, in the rainforests of India’s western Ghats, in the sal forests of central India, in the arid mountains of Turkmenistan, in the wetlands of South Africa’s iSimangaliso, in the open savanna in East Africa, you can find a leopard everywhere.

A female leopard (Panthera pardus) is dragging the carcass of male impala she had killed in the plains of Masai Mara national reserve. Quite likely she will hoist it up a tree to save some of it for later, and to keep scavangers like hyenas and lions away.
Licensed from Shutterstock
A female leopard (Panthera pardus) is dragging the carcass of male impala she had killed in the plains of Masai Mara national reserve. Quite likely she will hoist it up a tree to save some of it for later, and to keep scavangers like hyenas and lions away.

Leopard behavior

Leopards are great climbers. In Africa, you are pretty likely to see them in a tree. One way to spot a leopard is actually to look for impala legs hanging in a tree. Impalas can’t actually climb, but leopards take their prey into the canopy to protect it from lions and hyenas. Nobody else would be strong enough to challenge them. During the day, especially during the hotter period of midday, this is where leopards hang out.

Otherwise, they are active in the cool of the evening and early morning but hunt more often at night. In areas like India, where leopards and humans live in close proximity, they are active almost exclusively at night to avoid human encounters.

Leopards generally communicate through scent markings. Generally, they are pretty silent. However, on occasions when they meet others from their own species they make a coughing sound to warn others of the territory infringement. Or also to accept that they are infringing and apologize as they leave.

Spotting a leopard (Panthera pardus) in the wild can often be as simple as looking for an impala hoisted into the trees. While leopards possess remarkable strength, they are outmatched by lions and groups of hyenas on the ground. Leveraging their exceptional climbing abilities, leopards secure their prey by dragging it up into the safety of the branches, a strategy that not only protects their catch from scavengers but also showcases their incredible adaptability and survival skills in the competitive African wilderness.
CC License, image by Bernard DuPont
Spotting a leopard (Panthera pardus) in the wild can often be as simple as looking for an impala hoisted into the trees. While leopards possess remarkable strength, they are outmatched by lions and groups of hyenas on the ground. Leveraging their exceptional climbing abilities, leopards secure their prey by dragging it up into the safety of the branches, a strategy that not only protects their catch from scavengers but also showcases their incredible adaptability and survival skills in the competitive African wilderness.

What do Leopards eat?

A leopard’s favorite hunting technique is the ambush. They are masters of it. Watching leopards hunt is a lesson in patience. They generally get up to five meters away before they pounce. They do this using all available cover and take as long as is necessary. Often, during a leopard stalk, the prey will be disturbed by something unrelated, and the leopard’s patient approach goes to waste.

Leopards are relatively quick when escaping but slow when hunting. Their prey is often a nimble antelope. If an ambush fails, they give up. They don’t bother chasing prey as they don’t have the endurance. However, while they don’t challenge faster animals, they have no qualms about attacking prey much larger than themselves. Leopards are phenomenally strong for their size and will take down any large antelope if the opportunity arises.

Antelope, gazelles, wild boar, and anything else they meet are on the menu for a leopard. They are very opportunistic and will eat anything, including birds and reptiles. Rodents are generally too small but won’t be ignored. In some of the popular African national parks, they have been observed stealing from the lightweight cheetah.

Spotting a leopard (Panthera pardus) in the wild can often be as simple as looking for an impala hoisted into the trees. While leopards possess remarkable strength, they are outmatched by lions and groups of hyenas on the ground. Leveraging their exceptional climbing abilities, leopards secure their prey by dragging it up into the safety of the branches, a strategy that not only protects their catch from scavengers but also showcases their incredible adaptability and survival skills in the competitive African wilderness. This leopard is feasting on an impala in a tree in Sabi Sands Nature Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Licensed from Shutterstock
Spotting a leopard (Panthera pardus) in the wild can often be as simple as looking for an impala hoisted into the trees. While leopards possess remarkable strength, they are outmatched by lions and groups of hyenas on the ground. Leveraging their exceptional climbing abilities, leopards secure their prey by dragging it up into the safety of the branches, a strategy that not only protects their catch from scavengers but also showcases their incredible adaptability and survival skills in the competitive African wilderness. This leopard is feasting on an impala in a tree in Sabi Sands Nature Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Mating and Parental care of Leopards

Leopard cubs are tiny, cute and adorable. Like all kittens. They usually stay hidden in a den for up to six weeks. After this, they start exploring on their own, sometimes when their mothers leave them while hunting. Places like thick bushes or holes in tree trunks are good hiding places for a cub. By three months, the cubs are weaned and are eating the same as their mother, although they are not yet hunting. It will take more than a year, even up to a year and a half, before they are fully independent.

Typically, cubs are forced to leave home and fend for themselves when the mother is ready to mate again. The female mates every 18 months to two years, and is pregnant again for about three months. More cute cubs are born, and the sequence repeats.

A Young Leopard (Panthera pardus) cub in the safety  of a tree in South Africa.
Licensed from Shutterstock
A Young Leopard (Panthera pardus) cub in the safety of a tree in South Africa.

Who preys on Leopards?

In Africa, lions and hyenas are the leopard’s primary threats, and in India, they are tigers. Leopard cubs are at risk from predators like jackals. However, it is humans who are the biggest threat to the most beautiful of felines.

How long do Leopards live?

Like other Panthera species, the leopard can live for about ten years in the wild. However, that assumes that the cubs survive to adulthood. This is not guaranteed, though it occurs with about a 50/50 chance and is significantly better than for lions.

Leopards and their ecosystem

As a large predator, the leopard’s prey overlaps with that of the other large predators. Lions or tigers, depending on the continent, are big competitors, as are hyenas and wild dogs. However, leopards are the most flexible of hunters, leading to their position all over Africa and Asia as the most widespread of the large predators.

This flexibility allows leopards to hunt smaller animals when the larger prey is taken by the larger cats, or to move to bigger prey if there are more wild dogs around.

For security leopards (Panthera pardus) spend time resting in trees. This provides safety from lions or hyenas.
CC License, image by Bernard DuPont
For security leopards (Panthera pardus) spend time resting in trees. This provides safety from lions or hyenas.

Impact of Leopards on the human economy

A leopard’s modern-day value is probably as a tourist attraction. Previously though, there was value in the skins as a status symbol for tribal warriors. Today, trophy hunters still target them, often for obscene amounts of money, but that economic value is limited in its distribution.

Leopards and livestock are definitely not a good combination. The easy prey of a farm is very tempting for a leopard. While they might not want to approach human settlements so much, when prey is limited, they have no other option. In overpopulated areas such as near Mumbai, India, sick and weak animals are known to hunt humans as they are considered easy prey.

An Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) expertly camouflages itself within the lush foliage of Jhalana, Rajasthan, India
Licensed from Shutterstock
An Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) expertly camouflages itself within the lush foliage of Jhalana, Rajasthan, India

Other important information about Leopards

Panthera pardus pardus: Africa
Panthera pardus nimr, known as the Arabian leopard: Arabia
Panthera pardus saxicolor: Central Asia
Panthera pardus melas: Java
Panthera pardus kotiya: Sri Lanka
Panthera pardus fusca: South Asia
Panthera pardus delacourii: Southeast Asia and Southern China
Panthera japonensis: Northern China
Panthera pardus orientalis, known as the Amur leopard: Manchuria and Eastern Russia

Leopard in French, German, Spanish ...

Latin Name
Panthera pardus
French Names
Léopard, Panthère
German Names
Leopard
Spanish Names
Leopardo, Pantera
Swahili Names
Chui

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