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Leopard

Leopard

Overview
The leopard Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae
Felidae
Felidae is the biological family of the cats; a member of this family is called a felid. Felids are the strictest carnivores of the thirteen terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, although the three families of marine mammals comprising the superfamily pinnipedia are as carnivorous as the...

 family and the smallest of the four "big cat
Big cat
The term big cat – which is not a biological classification – is used informally to distinguish the larger felid species from smaller ones. One definition of "big cat" includes the four members of the genus Panthera: the tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard. Members of this genus are the only cats able...

s" in the genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Panthera
Panthera
Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae , which contains four well-known living species: the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats...

, the other three being the tiger
Tiger
The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to and weighing up to . Their most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with lighter underparts...

, lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

, and jaguar
Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, from Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 to South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, Indochina
Indochina
The Indochinese peninsula, is a region in Southeast Asia. It lies roughly southwest of China, and east of India. The name has its origins in the French, Indochine, as a combination of the names of "China" and "India", and was adopted when French colonizers in Vietnam began expanding their territory...

, Malaysia, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

.
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Encyclopedia
The leopard Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae
Felidae
Felidae is the biological family of the cats; a member of this family is called a felid. Felids are the strictest carnivores of the thirteen terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, although the three families of marine mammals comprising the superfamily pinnipedia are as carnivorous as the...

 family and the smallest of the four "big cat
Big cat
The term big cat – which is not a biological classification – is used informally to distinguish the larger felid species from smaller ones. One definition of "big cat" includes the four members of the genus Panthera: the tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard. Members of this genus are the only cats able...

s" in the genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Panthera
Panthera
Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae , which contains four well-known living species: the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats...

, the other three being the tiger
Tiger
The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to and weighing up to . Their most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with lighter underparts...

, lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

, and jaguar
Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, from Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 to South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, Indochina
Indochina
The Indochinese peninsula, is a region in Southeast Asia. It lies roughly southwest of China, and east of India. The name has its origins in the French, Indochine, as a combination of the names of "China" and "India", and was adopted when French colonizers in Vietnam began expanding their territory...

, Malaysia, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a "Near Threatened
Near Threatened
Near Threatened is a conservation status assigned to species or lower taxa that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status...

" species on the IUCN Red List
IUCN Red List
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species , founded in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species...

.

Compared to other members of the Felidae family, the leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It is similar in appearance to the jaguar
Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

, but is smaller and more slightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes
Rosette (zoology)
A rosette is a rose-like marking or formation found on the fur and skin of some animals, particularly cats of the family Felidae. Rosettes are used to camouflage the animal, either as a defense mechanism or as a stalking tool. Predators use their rosettes to simulate the different shifting of...

 similar to those of the jaguar, but the leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed, and do not usually have central spots as the jaguars do. Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic (completely black or very dark) are known as black panther
Black panther
A black panther is typically a melanistic color variant of any of several species of larger cat. Wild black panthers in Latin America are black jaguars , in Asia and Africa they are black leopards , and in North America they may be black jaguars or possibly black cougars A black panther is...

s.

The species' success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic
Generalist and specialist species
A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources . A specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet. Most organisms do not all fit neatly into either...

 hunting behavior, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), its unequaled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

 to desert terrains
Desert
A desert is a landscape or region that receives an extremely low amount of precipitation, less than enough to support growth of most plants. Most deserts have an average annual precipitation of less than...

.

Physical characteristics


Leopards are agile and stealthy predators. Although smaller than other members of the Panthera
Panthera
Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae , which contains four well-known living species: the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats...

genus, they are able to take large prey due to their massive skulls that facilitate powerful jaw muscles. Head and body length is between 95 and 165 cm (37.4 and 65 in), and the tail reaches 60 to 110 cm (23.6 to 43.3 in). Shoulder height is 45 to 80 cm (17.7 to 31.5 in). The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhance their ability to climb trees. They are very diverse in size. Males are about 30% larger than females, weighing 30 to 91 kg (66.1 to 200.6 lb) compared to 23 to 60 kg (50.7 to 132.3 lb) for females. Large males of up to 91 kg (200.6 lb) have been documented in Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers and extends from north to south and from east to west.To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is...

 in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

; however, males in the South Africa's coastal mountains average 31 kg (68.3 lb) and the females from the desert-edge in Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 average 23 to 27 kg (50.7 to 59.5 lb). This wide variation in size is thought to result from the quality and availability of prey found in each habitat. The most diminutive leopard subspecies overall is the Arabian leopard
Arabian leopard
The Arabian leopard is a leopard subspecies native to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as critically endangered by IUCN since 1996. Less than 200 animals remained in 2006...

 (P. p. nimr), from deserts of the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, with adult females of this race weighing as little as 20 kg (44.1 lb). Other large subspecies, in which the males can also weigh up to 91 kg (200.6 lb), are the Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) and the rare, little-known Anatolian leopard
Anatolian leopard
The Anatolian leopard , also called the Asia Minor leopard is a leopard subspecies native to southwestern Turkey. Its continued existence is uncertain.- Distribution and habitat:...

 (P. p. tulliana). The largest verified leopard weighed 96.5 kg (212.7 lb), with larger sizes reported but considered unreliable. The leopard's body is comparatively long, and its legs are short.

Leopards show a great diversity in coat color and rosette patterns. Their rosettes are circular in East Africa but tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations. Their yellow coat tends to more pale and cream colored in desert populations, more gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

 habitats. Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter coloured and of a softer, downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along the face, limbs and underbelly.

Leopards may sometimes be confused with two other large spotted cats, the cheetah
Cheetah
The cheetah is a large-sized feline inhabiting most of Africa and parts of the Middle East. The cheetah is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx, most notable for modifications in the species' paws...

, with which it may co-exist in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, and the jaguar
Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

, a neotropical species that it does not naturally co-exist with. However, the patterns of spots in each are different: the cheetah has simple black spots, evenly spread; the jaguar has small spots inside the polygonal rosettes
Rosette (zoology)
A rosette is a rose-like marking or formation found on the fur and skin of some animals, particularly cats of the family Felidae. Rosettes are used to camouflage the animal, either as a defense mechanism or as a stalking tool. Predators use their rosettes to simulate the different shifting of...

; while the leopard normally has rounder, smaller rosettes than those of the jaguar. The cheetah has longer legs and a thinner build that makes it look more streamlined and taller but less powerfully built than the leopard. The jaguar is more similar in build to the leopard but is generally larger in size and has a more muscular, bulky appearance.

Variant coloration





A melanistic morph of the leopard occurs, particularly in mountainous areas and rain forests. The black color is heritable and caused by recessive
Recessive
In genetics, the term "recessive gene" refers to an allele that causes a phenotype that is only seen in a homozygous genotype and never in a heterozygous genotype. Every person has two copies of every gene on autosomal chromosomes, one from mother and one from father...

 gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 loci. Melanistic leopards are commonly called black panther
Black panther
A black panther is typically a melanistic color variant of any of several species of larger cat. Wild black panthers in Latin America are black jaguars , in Asia and Africa they are black leopards , and in North America they may be black jaguars or possibly black cougars A black panther is...

s, although the term is not exclusive to leopards; it also applies to melanistic jaguars. Pseudomelanism (abundism) also occurs in leopards.

Melanistic leopards are particularly common on the Malayan Peninsula. Early reports suggested that up to half of all leopards are black, but a 2007 camera-trap study in Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara was established in Malaysia in 1938/1939 as the King George V National Park. It was renamed to Taman Negara after independence, which literally means "national park" in Malay...

 found that all specimens were melanistic. The benefits of melanism are difficult to interpret, but it may serve as camouflage in the rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

 habitat. It is also possible that the colour variation is a relic adaptation to an epidemic; genes causing melanism can also affect the immune system. Genetic
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

 research has found four independent origins
Convergent evolution
Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

 for melanism in cats, suggesting that there may be an adaptive advantage.

In Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, black leopards are much less common, as melanism is not an adaptive advantage in the savanna. Dark colouration provides poor camouflage and makes hunting difficult. In the dense forests of the Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
The Ethiopian Highlands are a rugged mass of mountains in Ethiopia, Eritrea , and northern Somalia in the Horn of Africa...

, however, the black leopard is much more common than in Africa generally; as many as one in five leopards may be melanistic.

Etymology


In antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

, a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a lion and a panther
Black panther
A black panther is typically a melanistic color variant of any of several species of larger cat. Wild black panthers in Latin America are black jaguars , in Asia and Africa they are black leopards , and in North America they may be black jaguars or possibly black cougars A black panther is...

, as is reflected in its name, which is a Greek compound
Compound (linguistics)
In linguistics, a compound is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem. Compounding or composition is the word formation that creates compound lexemes...

 of leōn (lion) and pardos (male panther). The Greek word is related to Sanskrit  (snake, tiger, panther), and probably is derived from a Mediterranean language, such as Egyptian
Egyptian language
Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

.

A panther can be any of several species of large felids: the term can refer to cougars and jaguar
Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

s in the American continents; and everywhere else, to leopards.

The generic component of its modern scientific designation, Panthera pardus, is derived from Latin via Greek πάνθηρ (pánthēr). Folk etymology held that it was a compound of παν (pan, all) and θηρ (beast). However, it is believed instead to be derived from an Indo-Iranian
Indo-Iranian languages
The Indo-Iranian language group constitutes the easternmost extant branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It consists of three language groups: the Indo-Aryan, Iranian and Nuristani...

 word meaning "white-yellow, pale"; in Sanskrit, this word's reflex was पाण्डर pāṇḍara, which was derived from पुण्डरीक puṇḍárīka (tiger, among other things), then borrowed into Greek.

Taxonomy and evolution


Like all of the feline family, the Panthera
Panthera
Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae , which contains four well-known living species: the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats...

genus has been subject to much alteration and debate, and the exact relations between the four species as well as the clouded leopard
Clouded Leopard
The clouded leopard is a felid found from the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia into China, and has been classified as vulnerable in 2008 by IUCN...

 and snow leopard
Snow Leopard
The snow leopard is a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of South Asia and Central Asia...

 have not been effectively resolved.

Carl Linnaeus placed leopards under the genus Felis
Felis
Felis is a genus of cats in the family Felidae, including the familiar domestic cat and its closest wild relatives. The wild species are distributed widely across Europe, southern and central Asia, and Africa; the domestic cat has been introduced worldwide.Members of the genus Felis are all small...

as the binominal Felis pardus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most naturalists and taxonomists
Linnaean taxonomy
Linnaean taxonomy can mean either of two related concepts:# the particular form of biological classification set up by Carl Linnaeus, as set forth in his Systema Naturæ and subsequent works...

 followed his example. In 1816, Lorenz Oken
Lorenz Oken
Lorenz Oken was a German naturalist.Oken was born Lorenz Okenfuss in Bohlsbach in Baden and studied natural history and medicine at the universities of Freiburg and Würzburg. He went on to the University of Göttingen, where he became a Privatdozent , and shortened his name to Oken...

 proposed a definition of the genus Panthera, with a subgenus Panthera using Linnaeus’ Felis pardus as a type specimen
Type species
In biological nomenclature, a type species is both a concept and a practical system which is used in the classification and nomenclature of animals and plants. The value of a "type species" lies in the fact that it makes clear what is meant by a particular genus name. A type species is the species...

. But most disagreed with his definition, and until the beginning of the 20th century continued using Felis or Leopardus
Leopardus
Leopardus is a genus consisting of small spotted cats mostly native to Middle and South America. Very few range into the southern United States. The genus is considered the oldest branch of the part of the cat family to cross into the Americas, followed by the genera Lynx and Puma...

when describing leopard subspecies. In 1916, Reginald Innes Pocock
Reginald Innes Pocock
Reginald Innes Pocock F.R.S. was a British zoologist.Pocock was born in Clifton, Bristol, the fourth son of Rev. Nicholas Pocock and Edith Prichard. He began showing interest in natural history at St. Edward's School, Oxford. He received tutoring in zoology from Sir Edward Poulton, and was allowed...

 accorded Panthera generic rank defining Panthera pardus as species.

It is believed that the basal divergence amongst the Felidae
Felidae
Felidae is the biological family of the cats; a member of this family is called a felid. Felids are the strictest carnivores of the thirteen terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, although the three families of marine mammals comprising the superfamily pinnipedia are as carnivorous as the...

 family occurred about 11 million years ago. The last common ancestor of the lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

, tiger
Tiger
The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to and weighing up to . Their most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with lighter underparts...

, leopard, jaguar
Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

, snow leopard
Snow Leopard
The snow leopard is a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of South Asia and Central Asia...

, and clouded leopard is believed to have occurred about 6.37 million years ago. Panthera is believed to have emerged in Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, with ancestors of the leopard and other cats subsequently migrating into Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. The researchers suggest that the snow leopard is most closely aligned with the tiger, whereas the leopard possibly has diverged from the Panthera lineage subsequent to these two species, but before the lion and jaguar. Fossils of early leopard ancestors have been found in East Africa
East Africa
East Africa or Eastern Africa is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. In the UN scheme of geographic regions, 19 territories constitute Eastern Africa:...

 and South Asia
South Asia
South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities , also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east...

 from the Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 of 2 to 3.5 Ma. The modern leopard is suggested to have evolved in Africa 470,000–825,000 years ago and radiated across Asia 170,000–300,000 years ago.

Results of phylogenetic analyses of chemical secretions amongst cats has suggested that the leopard is closely related to the lion.
Results of a mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 study carried out later suggest that the leopard is closely related to the snow leopard, which is placed as a fifth Panthera species, Panthera uncia.

Distribution and habitat




Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring widely in eastern and central Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, although populations have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

. Within sub-Saharan Africa, the species is still numerous and even thriving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared. But populations in North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

 may be extinct.

Data on their distribution in Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 are not consistent — populations in southwest and central Asia are small and fragmented; in the northeast, they are critically endangered; but in the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

, Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

, and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, leopards are still relatively abundant. Of the species as a whole, its numbers are greater than those of other Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns.

Leopards live mainly in grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

s, woodland
Woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

s, and riverine forests. They are usually associated with savanna
Savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

 and rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

, but leopards are exceptionally adaptable: in the Russian Far East
Russian Far East
Russian Far East is a term that refers to the Russian part of the Far East, i.e., extreme east parts of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean...

, they inhabit temperate forest
Temperate forest
Temperate forests correspond to forest concentrations formed in the northern hemisphere. Main characteristics include: wide leaves, big and tall trees and non seasonal vegetation...

s where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C.

Distribution of subspecies


Since Carl Linnaeus published his description of leopards in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae
10th edition of Systema Naturae
The 10th edition of Systema Naturae was a book written by Carl Linnaeus and published in two volumes in 1758 and 1759, which marks the starting point of zoological nomenclature...

 in 1758, as many as 27 leopard subspecies were subsequently described by naturalists from 1794 to 1956. In 1996, according to DNA analysis carried out in the 1990s, only eight subspecies are considered valid. Later analysis revealed a ninth valid subspecies, the Arabian leopard
Arabian leopard
The Arabian leopard is a leopard subspecies native to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as critically endangered by IUCN since 1996. Less than 200 animals remained in 2006...

 (P. p. nimr). Because of limited sampling of African leopard
African Leopard
The African Leopard is a leopard subspecies occurring across most of sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, the IUCN classified leopards as Near Threatened, stating that they may soon qualify for the Vulnerable status due to habitat loss and fragmentation. They are becoming increasingly rare outside...

s, this number might be an underestimation.

The nine subspecies recognised by IUCN are:
  • African leopard
    African Leopard
    The African Leopard is a leopard subspecies occurring across most of sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, the IUCN classified leopards as Near Threatened, stating that they may soon qualify for the Vulnerable status due to habitat loss and fragmentation. They are becoming increasingly rare outside...

     (P. p. pardus), (Linnaeus, 1758) — inhabits sub-Saharan Africa
    Sub-Saharan Africa
    Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

    ;
  • Indian leopard
    Indian leopard
    The Indian leopard is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the five big cats found in India, apart from Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, snow leopard and clouded leopard....

     (P. p. fusca), (Meyer
    Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer
    Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer was a German doctor and naturalist.His academic thesis in Göttingen was Dissertatio inauguralis medico-therapeutica De cortice angusturae....

    , 1794) — inhabits the Indian Subcontinent
    Indian subcontinent
    The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

    ;
  • Javan leopard
    Javan leopard
    The Javan leopard is a leopard subspecies confined to the Indonesian island of Java and classified as critically endangered by IUCN since 2008. The population is estimated at less than 250 mature individuals, with a decreasing population trend...

     (P. p. melas), (Cuvier
    Georges Cuvier
    Georges Chrétien Léopold Dagobert Cuvier or Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier , known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist...

    , 1809) — inhabits Java, Indonesia.
  • Arabian leopard
    Arabian leopard
    The Arabian leopard is a leopard subspecies native to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as critically endangered by IUCN since 1996. Less than 200 animals remained in 2006...

     (P. p. nimr), (Hemprich
    Wilhelm Hemprich
    Wilhelm Friedrich Hemprich was a German naturalist and explorer.Hemprich was born in Glatz , Prussian Silesia, and studied medicine at Breslau and Berlin...

     and Ehrenberg
    Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg
    Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg , German naturalist, zoologist, comparative anatomist, geologist, and microscopist, was one of the most famous and productive scientists of his time.- Early collections :...

    , 1833) — inhabits the Arabian Peninsula
    Arabian Peninsula
    The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

    ;
  • Amur leopard
    Amur Leopard
    The Amur leopard , also known as the Far Eastern leopard, Korean leopard, and Manchurian leopard is one of nine recognised subspecies of leopard. It is a wild feline predator native to the mountainous areas of the Russian Far East. It used to inhabit the forests of Korea and China, but it has...

     (P. p. orientalis), (Schlegel
    Hermann Schlegel
    Hermann Schlegel was a German ornithologist and herpetologist.-Early life and education:Schlegel was born at Altenburg, the son of a brassfounder. His father collected butterflies, which stimulated Schlegel's interest in natural history...

    , 1857) — inhabits the Russian Far East
    Russian Far East
    Russian Far East is a term that refers to the Russian part of the Far East, i.e., extreme east parts of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean...

    , Korean Peninsula
    Korean Peninsula
    The Korean Peninsula is a peninsula in East Asia. It extends southwards for about 684 miles from continental Asia into the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west, the Korea Strait connecting the first two bodies of water.Until the end of...

     and Northeast China
    China
    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

    ;
  • North Chinese leopard (P. p. japonensis), (Gray
    John Edward Gray
    John Edward Gray, FRS was a British zoologist. He was the elder brother of George Robert Gray and son of the pharmacologist and botanist Samuel Frederick Gray ....

    , 1862) — inhabits northern China;
  • Caucasian leopard (P. p. ciscaucasica), (Satunin, 1914), later described as Persian leopard
    Persian Leopard
    The Persian leopard , also called Caucasian leopard, is the largest leopard subspecies, and is native to eastern Turkey, the Caucasus mountains, northern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, and parts of western Afghanistan...

     (P. p. saxicolor), (Pocock
    Reginald Innes Pocock
    Reginald Innes Pocock F.R.S. was a British zoologist.Pocock was born in Clifton, Bristol, the fourth son of Rev. Nicholas Pocock and Edith Prichard. He began showing interest in natural history at St. Edward's School, Oxford. He received tutoring in zoology from Sir Edward Poulton, and was allowed...

    , 1927) — inhabits central Asia: the Caucasus
    Caucasus
    The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

    , Turkmenistan
    Turkmenistan
    Turkmenistan , formerly also known as Turkmenia is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic . Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states...

     and northern Iran
    Iran
    Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

    ;
  • Indochinese leopard
    Indochinese leopard
    The Indochinese leopard is a leopard subspecies native to mainland Southeast Asia and into southern China, classified as “Near Threatened” in 2008 by IUCN. In Indochina, leopards are threatened primarily by habitat loss due to deforestation, as well as poaching for the illegal trade...

     (P. p. delacouri), (Pocock, 1930) — inhabits mainland Southeast Asia
    Indochina
    The Indochinese peninsula, is a region in Southeast Asia. It lies roughly southwest of China, and east of India. The name has its origins in the French, Indochine, as a combination of the names of "China" and "India", and was adopted when French colonizers in Vietnam began expanding their territory...

    ;
  • Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya), (Deraniyagala, 1956) — inhabits Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

    .


A morphological analysis of characters of leopard skulls implies the validity of two more subspecies:
  • Anatolian leopard
    Anatolian leopard
    The Anatolian leopard , also called the Asia Minor leopard is a leopard subspecies native to southwestern Turkey. Its continued existence is uncertain.- Distribution and habitat:...

     (P. p. tulliana), (Valenciennes
    Achille Valenciennes
    Achille Valenciennes was a French zoologist.Valenciennes was born in Paris, and studied under Georges Cuvier. Valenciennes' study of parasitic worms in humans made an important contribution to the study of parasitology...

    , 1856) — inhabits Western Turkey
    Turkey
    Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

    ;
  • Balochistan leopard (P. p. sindica), (Pocock, 1930) — inhabits Pakistan
    Pakistan
    Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

    , and possibly also parts of Afghanistan
    Afghanistan
    Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

     and Iran
    Iran
    Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

    .

Ecology and behavior


Leopards are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. They have primarily been studied in open savanna habitats, which may have biased common descriptions. Activity level varies depending on the habitat and the type of prey that they hunt. Radio-tracking and scat analysis in West Africa showed that rainforest leopards are more likely to be diurnal and crepuscular
Crepuscular
Crepuscular animals are those that are active primarily during twilight, that is during dawn and dusk. The word is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, meaning "twilight." Crepuscular is, thus, in contrast with diurnal and nocturnal behavior. Crepuscular animals may also be active on a bright...

. Forest leopards are also more specialized in prey selection and exhibit seasonal differences in activity patterns.
Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although not as strong as some other big cats, such as the tiger. They are very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 metres (19.7 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) vertically. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and "sawing" sounds.

Social structure and home range



Home ranges of male leopards vary between 30 km² (11.6 sq mi) and 78 km² (30.1 sq mi), and of females between 15 to 16 km² (5.8 to 6.2 sqmi). Virtually all sources suggest that males do have larger home ranges. There seems to be little or no overlap in territory among males, although overlap exists between the sexes; one radio-collar analysis in the Ivory Coast found a female home range completely enclosed within a male's.

Research in a conservation area in Kenya showed similar territory sizes and sex differential: 32.8 km² (12.7 sq mi) average ranges for males, and 14 km² (5.4 sq mi) for females.

In Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

, somewhat larger male ranges have been found at about 48 km² (18.5 sq mi), while female ranges at 17 km² (6.6 sq mi); female home ranges decreased to 5 to 7 km² (1.9 to 2.7 sqmi) when young cubs were present, while the sexual difference in range size seemed to be in positive proportion to overall increase.

Studies of leopard home range size have tended to focus on protected areas, which may have led to skewed data; as of the mid-1980s, only 13% of the leopard range actually fell within a protected area. However, significant variations in the size of home ranges have been suggested across the leopard's range. Research in Namibia that focused on spatial ecology in farmlands outside of protected areas revealed ranges that were consistently above 100 km² (38.6 sq mi) with some more than 300 km² (115.8 sq mi). Admitting that their data were at odds with others, the researchers found little or no sexual variation in the size of territories.

Aggressive encounters have been observed. Two of five males studied over a period of a year at a game reserve in South Africa died, both violently. One was initially wounded in a male–male territorial battle over a carcass; taken in by researchers, it was released after a successful convalescence only to be killed by a different male a few months later. A second was killed by another predator, possibly a spotted hyena
Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save...

. A third of the five was badly wounded in intraspecific fighting, but recovered.

Hunting and diet


Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera species, and will eat anything from dung beetles to 900 kg (1,984.2 lb) male giant eland
Giant Eland
The giant eland is an open forest savannah antelope. It is found in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Cameroon and Senegal. There are two subspecies: the endangered T. d. derbianus, found in Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park, and the low risk T. d...

s. Their diet consists mostly of ungulate
Ungulate
Ungulates are several groups of mammals, most of which use the tips of their toes, usually hoofed, to sustain their whole body weight while moving. They make up several orders of mammals, of which six to eight survive...

s and monkey
Monkey
A monkey is a primate, either an Old World monkey or a New World monkey. There are about 260 known living species of monkey. Many are arboreal, although there are species that live primarily on the ground, such as baboons. Monkeys are generally considered to be intelligent. Unlike apes, monkeys...

s, but they also eat rodent
Rodent
Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents, characterised by two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing....

s, reptile
Reptile
Reptiles are members of a class of air-breathing, ectothermic vertebrates which are characterized by laying shelled eggs , and having skin covered in scales and/or scutes. They are tetrapods, either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors...

s, amphibian
Amphibian
Amphibians , are a class of vertebrate animals including animals such as toads, frogs, caecilians, and salamanders. They are characterized as non-amniote ectothermic tetrapods...

s, insects, birds (like the Vulturine Guineafowl
Vulturine Guineafowl
The Vulturine Guineafowl is the largest extant guineafowl species.Systematically, Acryllium are only distantly related to other guineafowl genera. Their closest living relative, the White Breasted Guineafowl, Agelastes meleagrides inhabit primary forests in Central Africa. bird family,...

), fish and sometimes smaller predators (such as bat-eared fox
Bat-eared Fox
The bat-eared fox is a canid of the African savanna, named for its large ears. Fossil records show this canid to first appear during the middle Pleistocene, about 800,000 years ago....

es, marten
Marten
The martens constitute the genus Martes within the subfamily Mustelinae, in family Mustelidae.-Description:Martens are slender, agile animals, adapted to living in taigas, and are found in coniferous and northern deciduous forests across the northern hemisphere. They have bushy tails, and large...

s, and jackal
Jackal
Although the word jackal has been historically used to refer to many small- to medium-sized species of the wolf genus of mammals, Canis, today it most properly and commonly refers to three species: the black-backed jackal and the side-striped jackal of sub-Saharan Africa, and the golden jackal of...

s). In at least one instance, a leopard has predated a sub-adult nile crocodile
Nile crocodile
The Nile crocodile or Common crocodile is an African crocodile which is common in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, South Africa, Malawi, Sudan, Botswana, and Cameroon...

 that was crossing over land. They stalk their prey silently, pounce on it at the last minute, and strangle its throat with a quick bite. In Africa, mid-sized antelope
Antelope
Antelope is a term referring to many even-toed ungulate species indigenous to various regions in Africa and Eurasia. Antelopes comprise a miscellaneous group within the family Bovidae, encompassing those old-world species that are neither cattle, sheep, buffalo, bison, nor goats...

s provide a majority of their prey, especially impala
Impala
An impala is a medium-sized African antelope. The name impala comes from the Zulu language meaning "gazelle"...

 and Thomson's gazelle
Thomson's Gazelle
The Thomson's gazelle is one of the best-known gazelles. It is named after explorer Joseph Thomson and, as a result, is sometimes referred to as a "tommie"...

s.

In the open savanna of Tsavo National Park, they kill more prey when hunting between sunset and sunrise. In Kruger National Park, males and females with cubs are more active at night. At least 92 prey species have been documented in their diet. They focus their hunting activity on locally abundant medium-sized ungulate species in the 20 to 80 kg (44.1 to 176.4 lb) range, while opportunistically taking other prey. Analysis of leopard scats found that 67% contained ungulate remains, of which 60% were impala, the most abundant antelope, with adult weights of 40 to 60 kg (88.2 to 132.3 lb). Small mammal remains were found most often in scats of sub-adult leopards, especially females. Average daily consumption rates was estimated at 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) for adult males and 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for females.

In Asia, the leopard preys on deer such as chital
Chital
The chital or cheetal , also known as chital deer, spotted deer or axis deer is a deer which commonly inhabits wooded regions of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and in small numbers in Pakistan...

s and muntjac
Muntjac
Muntjac, also known as Barking Deer and Mastreani Deer, are small deer of the genus Muntiacus. Muntjac are the oldest known deer, appearing 15–35 million years ago, with remains found in Miocene deposits in France, Germany and Poland....

s, as well as various Asian antelopes and ibex. Prey preference estimates in southern India showed that the most favored prey of the leopard were chital
Chital
The chital or cheetal , also known as chital deer, spotted deer or axis deer is a deer which commonly inhabits wooded regions of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and in small numbers in Pakistan...

s. A study at the Wolong Reserve in China revealed how adaptable their hunting behaviour is. Over the course of seven years, the vegetative cover receded, and the animals opportunistically shifted from primarily consuming tufted deer
Tufted Deer
The Tufted Deer is a small species of deer characterized by its prominent tuft of black hair on its forehead. It is a close relative of the muntjac, living somewhat further north over a wide area of central China and northeastern Myanmar. Although suffering from overhunting and habitat loss, this...

 to pursuing bamboo rat
Bamboo rat
The bamboo rats are four species of rodents of the subfamily Rhizomyinae. They are the sole living representatives of the tribe Rhizomyini. All are found in the eastern half of Asia.The species are:...

s and other smaller prey.

They select their prey focusing on small herds, dense habitat, and low risk of injury, preferring prey weights of 10 to 40 kg (22 to 88.2 lb) such as impala, chital, bushbuck
Bushbuck
The bushbuck is the most widespread antelope in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is found in rain forests, montane forests, forest-savanna mosaics and bush savannaforest and woodland. Recently, genetic studies have shown that the bushbuck, is in fact a complex of two geographically and phenotypically...

 and common duiker
Common Duiker
The Common Duiker, Sylvicapra grimmia, also known as the Grey or Bush Duiker, is a small antelope with small horns found in west, central, east, and southern Africa- essentially everywhere in Africa south of the Sahara, excluding the horn of Africa and the rainforests of the central and western...

 with an average body weight of 25 kg (55.1 lb).

In search of safety, leopards often stash their young or recent kills high up in a tree, which can be a great feat of strength considering that they may be carrying prey heavier than themselves in their the mouth while they climb vertically. One leopard was seen to haul a young giraffe, estimated to weigh up to 125 kg (275.6 lb), about 2–3 times the weight of the leopard, up 5.7 m (18.7 ft) into a tree.

Interspecific predatory relationships



Leopards must compete for food and shelter with other large predators such as lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s, tiger
Tiger
The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to and weighing up to . Their most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with lighter underparts...

s, spotted hyena
Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save...

s, and both African
African Wild Dog
Lycaon pictus is a large canid found only in Africa, especially in savannas and lightly wooded areas. It is variously called the African wild dog, African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, painted dog, painted wolf, painted hunting dog, spotted dog, or ornate wolf...

 and Asiatic wild dog
Dhole
The dhole is a species of canid native to South and Southeast Asia. It is the only extant member of the genus Cuon, which differs from Canis by the reduced number of molars and greater number of teats...

s. These animals may steal the leopard's kill or devour its young, though lions are most likely to kill and not eat the young if they're discovered. In some areas of Africa, troops of large baboon
Baboon
Baboons are African and Arabian Old World monkeys belonging to the genus Papio, part of the subfamily Cercopithecinae. There are five species, which are some of the largest non-hominoid members of the primate order; only the mandrill and the drill are larger...

 species (potentially leopard prey themselves) will kill and sometimes eat leopard young if they discover them. Occasionally, nile crocodile
Nile crocodile
The Nile crocodile or Common crocodile is an African crocodile which is common in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, South Africa, Malawi, Sudan, Botswana, and Cameroon...

s may predate on leopards. Leopards co-exist alongside these other predators by hunting for different types of prey and by avoiding areas frequented by them. Lions are occasionally successful in climbing trees and fetching leopard kills. In the Kalahari desert, leopards frequently lose kills to the brown hyena
Brown Hyena
The brown hyena is a species of hyena which occurs in Namibia, Botswana, western and southern Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and South Africa. It is currently the rarest hyena.-Description:...

, if the leopard is unable to move the kill into a tree. Single brown hyenas have been observed charging at and displacing male leopards from kills.

Resource partitioning occurs where leopards share their range with lions or tigers. Leopards tend to take smaller prey, usually less than 75 kg (165.3 lb), where the larger cats are present. In the Chitwan National Park in Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

, leopards killed prey ranging from less than 25 kg (55.1 lb) to 100 kg (220.5 lb) in weight with most kills in the 25 – range; tigers killed more prey in the 50 – range. In the tropical forests of India’s Nagarhole National Park
Nagarhole National Park
Nagarhole National Park , also known as "Rajiv Gandhi National Park", is located from Mysore in Karnataka in South India. It is spread between Kodagu district and Mysore district. Located to the north-west of Bandipur National Park, Kabini reservoir separates the two. The park has rich forest...

, tigers selected prey weighing more than 176 kg (388 lb), whereas leopards selected prey in the 30 – range. The average weights of leopard prey was 37.6 kg (82.9 lb), and of tiger prey was 91.5 kg (201.7 lb) with a bias towards adult males of chital
Chital
The chital or cheetal , also known as chital deer, spotted deer or axis deer is a deer which commonly inhabits wooded regions of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and in small numbers in Pakistan...

, sambar and wild pig, and young gaur
Gaur
The gaur , also called Indian bison, is a large bovine native to South Asia and Southeast Asia. The species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1986 as the population decline in parts of the species' range is likely to be well over 70% over the last three generations...

. In tropical forest they do not always avoid the larger cats by hunting at different times. With relatively abundant prey, tigers and leopards were seen to successfully coexist without competitive exclusion or inter-species dominance hierarchies that may be more common to the savanna. In areas with high tiger populations, such as in the central parts of India’s Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park is a national park and a Tiger Reserve in the Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, India. In the 1930s, Kanha area was divided into two sanctuaries, Hallon and Banjar, of 250 and 300 km² . Kanha National Park was created on 1 June, 1955. Today it stretches over an...

, leopards are not permanent residents, but transients. They were common near villages at the periphery of the park and outside the park.

Reproduction and life cycle


Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round. In Manchuria and Siberia, they mate during January and February. The estrous cycle
Estrous cycle
The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiologic changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females. Estrous cycles start after puberty in sexually mature females and are interrupted by anestrous phases or pregnancies...

 lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4 cubs. But mortality of cubs is estimated at 41–50% during the first year.

Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs 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 color with less defined spots. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18–24 months.

Leopards have been reported to reach 21 years of age in captivity.

Hybrids




Crossbreeding between leopards and other members of the genus Panthera has been documented, resulting in hybrids. A cross between a lioness and a male leopard is known as a leopon (or a lipard if the sex of the parents is reversed). Leopons have been bred in captivity; a well-documented case occurred at the Koshien Hanshin Park in Nishinomiya, Japan in the late 1950s. Although lions and leopards may come in to contact in sub-Saharan Africa, they are not widely believed to interbreed naturally. However, there have been anecdotal reports of small lions with exceptionally pronounced spotting, known as "marozis" and various other names, in several African countries, for which there has been cryptozoological speculation that they may be naturally occurring lion-leopard hybrids.

Crossbreeding between jaguars and leopards in captivity has also been documented. A cross between a female leopard and a male jaguar is referred to as a jagupard, the reverse is known a leguar; however, a crosses between either have also been called lepjags. Such crosses can only occur in captivity because leopards do not exist in the wild on the American continents where jaguars live. There have also been a few claims of crosses between tigers and leopards.
A pumapard is a hybrid animal resulting from a mating between a leopard and a puma (a member of the Puma genus, not the Panthera genus). Three sets of these hybrids were bred in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Carl Hagenbeck
Carl Hagenbeck
Carl Hagenbeck was a merchant of wild animals who supplied many European zoos, as well as P.T. Barnum. He is often considered the father of the modern zoo because he introduced "natural" animal enclosures that included recreations of animals' native habitats without bars...

 at his animal park in Hamburg, Germany. While most of these animals did not reach adulthood, one of these was purchased in 1898 by the Berlin Zoo. A similar hybrid in the Berlin Zoo purchased from Hagenbeck was a cross between a male leopard and a female puma. A specimen in the Hamburg Zoo
Zoological Garden of Hamburg
The Zoological Garden of Hamburg was a zoo in Hamburg, Germany that operated from 1863 until 1930. Its aquarium, which opened in 1864, was among the first in the world.- Founding :...

 (in the photo at right) was the reverse pairing, fathered by a puma bred to an Indian leopardess.

Whether born to a female puma mated to a male leopard, or to a male puma mated to a female leopard, pumapards inherit a form of dwarfism. Those reported grew to only half the size of the parents. They have a puma-like long body (proportional to the limbs, but nevertheless shorter than either parent), but short legs. The coat is variously described as sandy, tawny or greyish with brown, chestnut or faded rosettes.

Leopards and humans



Leopards have been known to humans throughout history, and have featured in the art, mythology, and folklore of many countries where they have historically occurred, such as ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, Persia, and Rome, as well as some where they have not existed for several millennia, such as England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. The modern use of the leopard as an emblem for sport or a coat of arms
Heraldry
Heraldry is the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Heraldry comes from Anglo-Norman herald, from the Germanic compound harja-waldaz, "army commander"...

 is much more restricted to Africa, though numerous products worldwide have used the name.

Leopard domestication has also been recorded – several leopards were kept in a menagerie established by King John
John of England
John , also known as John Lackland , was King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death...

 at the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 in the 13th century; around 1235, three of these animals were given to Henry III
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

 by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II , was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages and head of the House of Hohenstaufen. His political and cultural ambitions, based in Sicily and stretching through Italy to Germany, and even to Jerusalem, were enormous...

.

Heraldry





The lion passant guardant or leopard is a frequently used charge
Charge (heraldry)
In heraldry, a charge is any emblem or device occupying the field of an escutcheon . This may be a geometric design or a symbolic representation of a person, animal, plant, object or other device...

 in heraldry
Heraldry
Heraldry is the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Heraldry comes from Anglo-Norman herald, from the Germanic compound harja-waldaz, "army commander"...

, most commonly appearing in groups of three. The heraldric leopard lacks spots and sports a mane, making it visually almost identical to the heraldric lion
Lion (heraldry)
The lion is a common charge in heraldry. It traditionally symbolises bravery, valour, strength, and royalty, since traditionally, it is regarded as the king of beasts.-Attitudes:...

, and the two are often used interchangeably. These traditional lions passant guardant appear in the coat of arms of England
Coat of arms of England
In heraldry, the Royal Arms of England is a coat of arms symbolising England and its monarchs. Its blazon is Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure, meaning three identical gold lions with blue tongues and claws, walking and facing the observer, arranged in a column...

 and many of its former colonies; more modern naturalistic (leopard-like) depictions appear on the coat of arms of several African nations including Benin
Coat of arms of Benin
The coat of arms of Benin, originally introduced in 1964, was readopted in 1990 after being replaced in 1975.At the top of the emblem is the national crest that consists of two horns with corn in the ear and filled with sand. These are reputed to stand for prosperity...

, Malawi
Coat of arms of Malawi
The coat of arms of Malawi is based on the earlier heraldic arms of Nyasaland. It is supported by a lion and a leopard, above a scroll reading "Unity and Freedom"....

, Somalia
Coat of arms of Somalia
The coat of arms of Somalia was adopted on October 10, 1956. The leopards which support the shield and the white star were also found on the arms used during the Italian administration. Formerly, the arms of Somalia from June 8, 1919, featured a shield divided horizontally by a wavy white line...

, the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Coat of arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has changed several times since 1997. The current one was introduced in 2006 and depicts a leopard head, surrounded by an elephant tusk to the left and a spear to the right. Below are the three words which make up the national motto: Justice, Paix,...

 and Gabon
Coat of arms of Gabon
The coat of arms of Gabon was designed by the Swiss heraldist and vexillologist Louis Mühlemann, one of the founding members of the FIAV and also designer of the former coat of arms of Congo. It has been in use since 15 July 1963....

, which uses a black panther.

Tourism


Park reserves in several countries operate wildlife touring programs that allow visitors to observe leopards in their natural habitat. The Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve
Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve
Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve , often shortened to Sabi Sands, is a private game reserve in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. It is named after the Sabie and Sand Rivers that flow through the park. It covers an area of 60,000-65,000 ha...

 in South Africa is one such establishment that offers safari ventures. Sri Lanka offers two leopard habitats, Yala National Park
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Actually it consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public; and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names also, like Ruhuna National Park for the block 1 and Kumana National Park or...

 and Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is a park located on the island of Sri Lanka. The unique feature of this park is the existence of "Willus" - Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. Located in the Northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka...

, where wildlife tours are available. In India, leopards can be seen in the Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh , often called the Heart of India, is a state in central India. Its capital is Bhopal and Indore is the largest city....

 and Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand , formerly Uttaranchal, is a state in the northern part of India. It is often referred to as the Land of Gods due to the many holy Hindu temples and cities found throughout the state, some of which are among Hinduism's most spiritual and auspicious places of pilgrimage and worship...

 national parks.

While luxury establishments may boast the fact that wild animals can be seen at close range on a daily basis, the leopard's camouflage and propensity to hide and stalk prey make leopard sightings rare. For example, in Sri Lanka's Yala National Park
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Actually it consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public; and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names also, like Ruhuna National Park for the block 1 and Kumana National Park or...

, leopards have been ranked by visitors to be among the least visible of all animals in the park despite their high concentration in the reserve.

Man-eating


Most leopards avoid people, but humans may occasionally be targeted as prey. Most healthy leopards prefer wild prey to humans, but injured, sickly, or struggling cats with a shortage of regular prey may resort to hunting humans and become habituated to it. Two extreme cases occurred in India: the first leopard, "the Leopard of Rudraprayag
Leopard of Rudraprayag
The Leopard of Rudraprayag was a male man-eating leopard, claimed to have killed over 125 people. It was eventually killed by famed big cat hunter and author Jim Corbett.The first victim of the leopard was from village Benji...

", may have killed more than 125 people; the second, the "Panar Leopard
Panar Leopard
The Leopard of Panar was a man-eating male leopard alleged to have killed and eaten as many as 400 people over a period of several years in the Kumaon District of Northern India in the early 20th century, after a wounding by a poacher had left it unable to hunt normal prey.The Panar Leopard was...

", was believed to have killed more than 400, after injury by a poacher made it unable to hunt normal prey. Both were killed by hunter Jim Corbett
Jim Corbett (hunter)
Edward James "Jim" Corbett was a British hunter, conservationist, author and naturalist, famous for slaying a large number of man-eating tigers and leopards in India....

. Man-eating leopards are considered bold by feline standards and may enter human settlements for prey, more so than lions and tigers. Author and big game hunter Kenneth Anderson
Kenneth Anderson (writer)
Kenneth Anderson was an Indian writer and hunter who wrote many books about his adventures in the jungles of South India.- Background :...

had first-hand experience with many man-eating leopards, and described them as far more threatening than tigers:

Further reading


External links