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Leopard

Powerful and agile, leopards are excellent climbers and swimmers, making them skilled apex predators. Still, their population is decreasing worldwide.

Portrait of Leopard

Leopard

Panthera pardus

Leopard Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Panthera
  • Species: Panthera pardus

Leopard Appearance

Closeup leopard sitting on a tree
  • Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
  • Length: 3 to 6.2 feet
  • Height: 25 to 28 inches
  • Weight: 46 to 165 pounds
  • Top speed: 58 mph

Leopards are big cats similar to lions, tigers, and jaguars. Their soft and thick furs are yellow to golden. Their skin is covered with dark spots shaped like roses. The belly is whitish, and the tail is ringed. These spots or rosettes help leopards blend in with the surroundings.

The tails are longer than 30 inches and are white underneath. The spots on their tails form incomplete bands. 

Leopards are muscular and powerful creatures. They have long and slender bodies. Their limbs are short, and their heads are broad. 

Leopards have sharp retractable claws that draw into the folds of their skin. They have a heightened sense of hearing and long and sensitive whiskers. 

The male leopards can grow up to 28 inches while the females are shorter and reach up to 25 inches. The length spans across 6 feet, and they usually weigh between 130 to 190 pounds.

Did you know? Leopards are pound for pound the strongest of the big cats. They can climb trees, even when carrying heavy prey, and often choose to rest on tree branches during the day.

Leopard Range & Habitat

Leopard walking in forest

Leopards have the broadest range among all the big cats. They are spread across sub-Saharan Africa to West Asia and the Middle East, reaching South and Southeast Asia and Siberia. 

India, Indonesia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Cambodia are among the long list of countries where leopards are found.

Leopards live in a wide variety of habitats such as temperate, tropical, and arid regions, though these big cats prefer lands with lots of trees. This includes tropical rainforests, savannahs, woodlands, and forests. They rarely live in scrublands, barren deserts, and mountainous highlands.

Distribution

  • Continents: Africa and Asia
  • Countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Congo, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia (Jawa), Iran, Islamic Republic of, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, United Republic of, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Habitats

Forest | Savanna | Shrubland | Grassland | Rocky areas | Desert

Leopard Behavior and Lifestyle

Leopard climbing a tree

Leopards are solitary and nocturnal animals. They are also asocial cats, often engaging in fights with other leopards. 

They are excellent climbers and spend most of the day resting in the shade of branches. They can hunt both on the ground and in the trees.

Like other big cats, leopards are highly territorial and use scent markings, and produce rough, rasping calls to mark their area. Leopards create several sounds like growls, snarls, meows, and purrs. Their roars are a series of grunts, called ‘sawing’ as it sounds similar to the sawing of wood.

Leopard Diet

Leopards are predatory carnivores. They are opportunistic feeders, and their diet consists of a large variety of animals. They generally look for medium-sized prey like deers and warthogs. 

However, when larger animals are hard to find, they will go after small prey, including birds, reptiles, rodents, and even Dung Beetles. 

Leopards may hunt jackals, antelopes, gazelles, monkeys, duikers, elands, impalas, wildebeests, birds, rodents, hyraxes, hares, snakes, sheep, goats, and even insects. 

Feeding on smaller animals avoids food competition with other predators who share the same habitats as tigers and hyenas. Leopards can survive without water for long periods as they get moisture from their food.

Leopard eating Impala on a tree
Leopard eating Impala on a tree

Leopards depend on their acute senses of hearing and vision when hunting. Leopards are silent and opportunistic hunters that stalk their prey at night. 

They only hunt animals for food and to survive. Following the pattern of all big cats in the wild, leopards adopt an ambush approach to hunt prey. 

These cats will hide above in tree branches or camouflage themselves in dense vegetation. Lying and observing their target from several meters away, leopards move stealthily.

Rather than engaging prey in high-speed chases, leopards conserve their energy by stalking their kills very closely before ambushing them. 

Once they are within 16 feet of the target, they will pounce and prey on their quarry through suffocation. Smaller animals are taken down with a single bite to the back of the neck, but larger animals are held down by the throat and strangled.

Leopards have massive skulls and powerful jaws. This lets them take on much bigger prey. After hunting, they can also drag the animals into the dense vegetation or even up into the trees to protect their meal from scavengers.

Leopard Reproduction and Mating

Leopard sitting with cub beside her

Leopards do not have a defined breeding season like many other animals. Instead, they reproduce every few months. 

Males and females mate with several mates. Breeding throughout the year, the peak season is usually in May or during the rainy season. The gestation period is about three months long.

Female leopards give birth to two to six cubs at a time. Cubs are born blind and weigh about half a kilo. 

The young leopards are incredibly vulnerable in the initial days. So, the mothers hide their cubs in the dense vegetation. 

The darker fur coat keeps the baby leopards nicely camouflaged. They start following their mother at around six to eight weeks. 

Cubs are weaned till they reach three months of age. They will continue living with their mother until they are 18 months old. Leopards will start breeding when they are two or three years old.

Leopard Conservation Status

Vulnerable[1]

Leopard Predators and Threats

Being powerful, stealthy, and apex hunters, the leopards have very few predators. 

Throughout their natural range, the most significant threats are other adult leopards and similar larger predators like lions or tigers. 

Young leopards are very vulnerable. Leopard cubs are often attacked by hyenas, jackals, lions, tigers, and snakes. 

Currently, the greatest threat to the leopard population is the loss of habitat to the timber industry and agriculture. Humans often hunt leopards as trophies and for their body parts.

Leopard Facts

Here are a few fun facts about leopards:

  • Leopards were first thought to be a hybrid species of lions and jaguars over 100 years ago.
  • Black panthers are black leopards that have completely black coats of fur.
  • Leopards are known as roaring cats, but their roar sounds more like a bark.
  • Leopards have an incredible sense of hearing. They can hear five times more sounds than a human.
  • Leopards are one of the four big cats (the others are tigers, lions, and jaguars) and also the smallest of the bunch.