) is one of the four 'big cats' of the
. Originally, it was thought that a leopard was a hybrid
between a lion and a panther, and the leopard's common name derives from this
is the Greek and Latin word for lion
) and pard
is an old term meaning panther
. In fact, a
"panther" can be any of several species of large felid. In North America,
panther means cougar and in South America a panther is a jaguar. Elsewhere in
the world a panther is a leopard. Early naturalists distinguished between
leopards and panthers not by colour (a common misconception), but by the length
of the tail - panthers having longer tails than leopards.
Ghost of the Himalayas - The Snow Leopard
The leopard is the fourth largest of the Panthera "big cats" in the
world, behind the tiger, lion and jaguar. The leopard is the fifth largest of
all cats with the cougar being slightly larger. Leopards range in size from one
to just over two metres (6.5 ft) long, and generally weigh between 30 and 70 kg
(65–155 lb). Some males may grow over 90 kg (200 lb). Females are typically
around two-thirds the size of males. For its size, the leopard is the most
powerful feline in the world next to the jaguar. Leopards tend to be the apex
predator in areas where bigger competitors do not occur, especially lions and
tigers. This explains why the leopards in areas such as the African rainforests
or Sri Lanka are larger than leopards elsewhere.
Leopards hunt mostly at night both on the ground and in the trees.
Most leopards are light tan or fawn with black rosettes, but their coat color
is highly variable. There are smaller rosettes and spots on the head.
The big cats, especially the spotted cats, are easy to confuse for those who
see them in captivity or in photographs. The leopard is closely related to, and
appears very similar to, the jaguar; it is less often confused with the cheetah.
The ranges, habitats, and activities of the three cats make them easy to
distinguish in the wild.
Since wild leopards live only in Africa and Asia while wild jaguars live only
in the Americas, there is no possibility of confusing them in the wild. There
are also visual markings that set them apart. Leopards do not have the spots
within the rosettes that jaguars always have, and the jaguar's spots are larger
than the leopard's (see below). The Amur leopard and the North Chinese leopard
are occasional exceptions. The leopard is smaller and less stocky than the
jaguar, although it is heavier than the cheetah.
Besides appearance, the leopard and jaguar have similar behavior patterns.
Jaguars can adapt to a range of habitats from rainforest to ranchlands while
leopards are even more adaptable ranging in from deserts and mountains, savanna
Although it is not unusual for a leopard to be mistaken for a cheetah due to
their frequently overlapping ranges, they can actually be easily distinguished.
The leopard is heavier, stockier, has a larger head in proportion to its body,
and has rosettes rather than spots. It also lacks the ring pattern that marks
the end of the cheetah's tail and the black, "tear-drop" markings that run from
the inner corners of the cheetah's eyes to the corners of its mouth.
Additionally, cheetahs run much faster than leopards do and do not climb trees,
except while they are cubs, whereas leopards are excellent climbers. Also,
leopards are more active at night (nocturnal), whereas cheetahs are usually
A black panther is a melanistic leopard (or melanistic jaguar). These
have mutations that cause them to produce more black pigment (eumelanin) than
orange-tan pigment (pheomelanin). This results in a chiefly black coat, though
the spots of a black panther can still be discerned in certain light as the
deposition of pigment is different in the pattern than in the background. There
are also white panthers.
Distribution and conservation
Prior to the human-induced changes of the last few hundred years, Leopards
were the most widely distributed of all felids other than the domestic cat: they
were found in historical times through most of Africa (with the exception of the
Sahara Desert) and in many parts of southern Asia. In the Pleistocene leopards
also occurred in Europe. Today leopards are still found in many parts of
Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Minor, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China,
Siberia, much of mainland South-East Asia, and the islands of Java and Sri
Lanka. In some of these areas they are very rare today.
The leopard is doing surprisingly well for a large predator. It is estimated
that there are as many as 500,000 leopards worldwide. But like many other big
cats, leopards are increasingly under threat of habitat loss and are facing
increased hunting pressure. Because of their stealthy habits and camouflage,
they can go undetected even in close proximity to human settlements. Despite the
leopard's abilities, it is no match for habitat destruction and poachers, and
several subspecies are endangered, namely, the Amur, Anatolian, Barbary, North
Chinese, and South Arabian leopards.
Snow Leopard having a rest
Behaviour and predation
Leopards are infamous for their ability to go undetected. They sometimes live
practically among humans and are usually still tough to spot. They are graceful
and stealthy. Amongst the big cats they are probably the most accomplished
stalkers. They are good, agile climbers and can descend from a tree headfirst.
Along with climbing, they are strong swimmers but not as fond of water as
tigers; for example, leopards will not normally lie in water. They are mainly
nocturnal but can be seen at any time of day and will even hunt during daytime
on overcast days. In regions where they are hunted, nocturnal behavior is more
common. These cats are solitary, avoiding one another. However, 3 or 4 are
sometimes seen together. Hearing and eyesight are the strongest of these cats'
senses and are extremely acute. Olfaction is relied upon as well, but not for
hunting. When making a threat, leopards stretch their backs, depress their
ribcages between their shoulder blades so they stick out, and lower their heads
(similar to domestic cats). During the day they may lie in bush, on rocks, or in
a tree with their tails hanging below the treetops and giving them away.
Leopards have difficulty defending kills from large social predators, such as
lion or hyena. In areas with large numbers of large predators, they typically
store their kills out of reach in trees. Although a leopard caught on the ground
will typically try to defend its kill, it will generally find itself outmatched
by these predators. If outnumbered, it will abandon its kill and seek safety in
Leopards are truly opportunistic hunters. They will eat just about any
animal. Their diet consists of mostly monkeys, rodents, reptiles, amphibians,
birds, fish, wild pigs, and ungulates. In fact, they hunt about 90 different
species of animals. Their prey ranges in size from a snack of beetles to
enormous adult common eland, which can weigh over a ton. In Africa, mid-sized
antelopes provide a majority of the leopard's prey, especially Thomson's
gazelles and reedbucks. It stalks its prey silently and at the last minute
pounces on its prey and strangles its throat with a quick bite. When it kills
animals such as gazelle, it carries them up into the trees to eat it. Leopards
are capable of carrying animals up to twice their own weight into the trees.
Although most leopards will tend to avoid humans, people are occasionally
targeted as prey. Most healthy leopards prefer wild prey to humans, but cats who
are injured, sickly or struggling with a shortage of regular prey often turn to
hunting people and may become habituated to it. In the most extreme cases, both
in India, a leopard dubbed "the Leopard of Rudraprayag" is claimed to have
killed over 125 people and the infamous leopardess called "Panar Leopard" killed
over 400 after being injured by a poacher and thus being made unable to hunt
normal prey. The "Leopard of Rudraprayag" and the "Panar Leopard" were both
killed by the legendary hunter Jim Corbett.
Despite its size, this largely nocturnal and arboreal predator is difficult
to see in the wild. The best location to see leopards in Africa is in the Sabi
Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa, where leopards are habituated to
safari vehicles and are seen on a daily basis at very close range. In Asia, the
best site is the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, which has the world's highest
density of wild leopards, but even here sightings are by no means guaranteed
because more than half the park is closed off to the public, allowing the
animals to thrive. The recently reopened Wilpattu National Park (also in Sri
Lanka), is another good destination for leopard watching.
The Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)
is a medium-sized cat found in Southeast Asia. It has a tan or tawny
coat, and is distinctively marked with large, irregularly-shaped,
dark-edged ellipses which are said to be shaped like clouds.
Remarkably very little is known about the natural
history and behavioural habits of this species in the wild, it is
now thought that its primary prey includes arboreal and terrestrial
mammals, particularly gibbons, macaques, and civets supplemented by
other small mammals, deer, birds, porcupines, and domestic
livestock. Clouded Leopards that are held in captivity also eat eggs
and some vegetation.
As might be expected from the fact that some of
its prey lives in trees, the Clouded Leopard is an excellent
climber. Short, flexible legs, large paws, and sharp claws combine
to make it very sure-footed in the canopy.
The Clouded Leopard is found only in Southeast
Asia and ranges through southern China (at least as far north as
Wuyi Shan), the eastern Himalayas, Nepal, northeast India,
Bangladesh, and Indochina. It is thought to be extinct in Taiwan.
Because the Clouded Leopard's habits make it
difficult to study, reliable estimates of its population do not
exist. The World Conservation Union estimates that fewer than 10,000
individuals exist, and warns that the population is declining.
Habitat loss due to widespread deforestation and hunting for use in
Chinese medicinal preparations are thought to be causing populations
of the Clouded Leopard to decline.
Males may follow a female who catches his attention. Eventually fighting for
reproductive rights can take place. Depending on the region, leopards may mate
all year round (India and Africa) or seasonally during January to February
(Manchuria and Siberia). The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female
usually is in heat for 6-7 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2-3, but
infant mortality is high and mothers are not commonly seen with more than 1-2
cubs. The pregnant females find a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or
thicket to give birth and make a den. Cubs open their eyes after a period of 10
days. 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 3 months
the infants begin to follow the mother out on hunts. At one year of age leopard
young can probably fend for themselves but they remain with the mother for 18-24
It has been suggested that there may be as many as 30 extant subspecies of
the Leopard; however, most of these are questionable.
- African leopard, Panthera pardus pardus (lower risk, least concern)
- Caucasus leopard Panthera pardus ciscaucasica (endangered)
- Anatolian leopard, Panthera pardus tulliana (critically endangered,
- Amur leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis (critically endangered)
- Arabian leopard, Panthera pardus nimr (critically endangered)
- Barbary leopard, Panthera pardus panthera (critically endangered,
- Indian leopard*, Panthera pardus fusca (lower risk)
- Indo-Chinese leopard*, Panthera pardus delacouri (vulnerable)
- Java leopard*, Panthera pardus melas (endangered)
- North China leopard*, Panthera pardus japonensis (vulnerable)
- Persian leopard or Iranian leopard*, Panthera pardus saxicolor
- Sinai leopard, Panthera pardus jarvisi (critically endangered,
- Sri Lanka leopard*, Panthera pardus kotiya (endangered)
- Zanzibar leopard, Panthera pardus adersi (Probably extinct)
- European leopard, Panthera pardus sickenbergi (†)
A pseudo-melanistic leopard has a normal background colour, but its excessive
markings have coalesced so that its back seems to be an unbroken expanse of
black. In some specimens, the area of solid black extends down the flanks and
limbs; only a few lateral streaks of golden-brown indicate the presence of
normal background colour. Any spots on the flanks and limbs that have not merged
into the mass of swirls and stripes are unusually small and discrete, rather
than forming rosettes. The face and underparts are paler and dappled like those
of ordinary spotted leopards.
In a paper about panthers and ounces of Asia, Pocock used a photo of a
leopard skin from southern India; it had large black-rimmed blotches, each
containing a number of dots and it resembled the pattern of a jaguar or clouded
leopard. Another of Pocock's leopard skins from southern India had the normal
rosettes broken up and fused and so much additional pigment that the animal
looked like a black leopard streaked and speckled with yellow.
Most other colour morphs of leopards are known only from paintings or museum
specimens. There have been very rare examples where the spots of a normal black
leopard have coalesced to give a jet black leopard with no visible markings.
Pseudo-melanism (abundism) occurs in leopards. The spots are more densely packed
than normal and merge to largely obscure the background colour. They may form
swirls and, in some places, solid black areas. Unlike a true black leopard the
tawny background colour is visible in places. One pseudo-melanistic leopard had
a tawny orange coat with coalescing rosettes and spots, but white belly with
normal black spots (like a black-and-tan dog).
In Harmsworth Natural History (1910), R. Lydekker described pseudo-melanistic
leopard: There is, however, a peculiar dark phase in South Africa, a specimen
of which was obtained in 1885 in hilly land covered with scrub-jungle, near
Grahamstown. The ground-colour of this animal was a rich tawny, with an orange
tinge; but the spots, instead of being of the usual rosette-like form, were
nearly all small and solid, like those on the head of an ordinary leopard; while
from the top of the head to near the root of the tail the spots became almost
confluent, producing the appearance of a broad streak of black running down the
back. A second skin had the black area embracing nearly the whole of the back
and flanks, without showing any trace of the spots, while in those portions of
the skin where the latter remained they were of the same form as in the first
specimen. Two other specimens are known; the whole four having been obtained
from the Albany district. These dark-coloured South African leopards differ from
the black leopards of the northern and eastern parts of Africa and Asia in that
while in the latter the rosette-like spots are always retained and clearly
visible, in the former the rosettes are lost - as, indeed, is to a considerable
extent often the case in ordinary African leopards - and all trace of spots
disappears from the blacker portions of the skin.
Another pseudo-melanistic leopard skin was described in 1915 by Holdridge
Ozro Collins who had purchased it in 1912. It had been killed in Malabar, India
that same year. The wide black portion, which glistens like the sheen of silk
velvet, extends from the top of the head to the extremity of the tail entirely
free from any white or tawny hairs ... In the tiger, the stripes are black, of a
uniform character, upon a tawny background, and they run in parallel lines from
the centre of the back to the belly. In this skin, the stripes are almost golden
yellow, without the uniformity and parallelism of the tiger characteristics, and
they extend along the sides in labyrinthine graceful curls and circles, several
inches below the wide shimmering black continuous course of the back. The
extreme edges around the legs and belly are white and spotted like the skin of a
leopard ... The skin is larger than that of a leopard but smaller than that of a
full grown tiger.
In May 1936, the British Natural History Museum exhibited the mounted skin of
an unusual Somali leopard. The pelt was richly decorated with an intricate
pattern of swirling stripes, blotches, curls and fine-line traceries. This is
different from a spotted leopard, but similar to a King Cheetah hence the modern
cryptozoology term King Leopard. Between 1885 and 1934, six pseudo-melanistic
leopards were recorded in the Albany and Grahamstown districts of South Africa.
This indicated a mutation in the local leopard population. Other King Leopards
have been recorded from Malabar in south-western India. Shooting for trophies may
have wiped out these populations.
Particularly in medieval heraldry, the "leopard" was a name used for what is
now almost invariably termed the lion passant guardant.
- The zany movie Bringing Up Baby (1939) gives title billing to a leopard
whose misadventures create madcap comedy for stars Cary Grant and Katharine
Hepburn; the movie is one of the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest
- In the 1999 Tarzan movie by Disney, a vicious leopard, Sabor, was
Tarzan's natural and mortal enemy, although the Mangani name for leopards
established in the books is "Sheeta".
- In Passion in the Desert (1997), a French soldier (played by British
actor Ben Daniels) while lost in Egypt during Napoleon's Egyptian campaign
stumbles upon a leopard and develops a strange relationship with the animal.
North China Leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis)
why do people use leopard
skin for coats ?
vanity and lack of concern for wild