Leopard

Panthera pardus

SUBFAMILY

Pantherinae

TAXONOMY

Felis pardus (Linnaeus, 1758), Egypt. The African subspecies (Panthera p. pardus) occurs over most of the leopard's range. Six other subspecies are in small or isolated populations, most now critically at risk: the Amur leopard (Panthera p. orientalis); Anatolian leopard (Panthera p. tulliana); Barbary Leopard (Panthera p. panthera) of North Africa; south Arabian leopard (Panthera p. nimr); Zanzibar leopard (Panthera p. adersi); and Sinai leopard (Panthera p. jarvisi).

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Panther; French: Léopard, panthère; German: Leopard, panther; Spanish: Leopardo, pantera.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Length 40-75 in (100-190 cm); tail 28-37 in (70-95 cm); weight 66-155 lb (30-70 kg). Massive skull, powerful jaws, short, powerful limbs. Coat varies from pale yellow to deep gold or tawny, patterned with black rosettes. Head, lower limbs and belly spotted with solid black. Black leopards are a melanistic variation.

DISTRIBUTION

The most widely distributed of wild cats, found in most of sub-Saharan Africa and in south Asia, with scattered populations in North Africa, and the Middle and Far East.

HABITAT

Any habitat with some cover, prey, and annual rainfall above 0.3 in (50 mm), from tropical rainforest to desert, at altitudes up to 18,700 ft (5,700 m).

BEHAVIOR

Highly adaptable but secretive. Males almost entirely solitary, females solitary or with cubs. Males defend territories which they declare by scent marking and roaring. The leopard's roar is a rough rasp, like a handsaw cutting wood, also used by females to attract mates or call cubs. A male's range may be anywhere from 7 to 440 mi2 (18-1,150 km2), depending on prey availability. Females have smaller ranges, 4-190 mi2 (10-480 km2), which often overlap.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Diet exceptionally broad, from dung beetles to eland. Medium-sized ungulates are the main target of hunts, but rodents, birds, hares, primates, and arthropods are taken opportunistically and leopards also scavenge. Leopards hunt alone, mainly at night, relying on stealth to stalk and ambush prey, rarely chasing, despite being capable of speeds up to 36 mph (60 kph). Large kills are sometimes cached in trees—the leopard is a powerful climber.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Breeds year round, but birth peaks may coincide with the birth season of main prey animals. Gestation 90-105 days, litter size one to six cubs (usually one to two). First year mortality rate up to 50%. Cubs are hidden at first, follow their mother at 6-8 weeks, and are weaned from three months, but are not independent until 18-22 months. They then disperse, but females may settle in a range overlapping the mother's. There are strong maternal bonds, and offspring often have reunions with mothers.

CONSERVATION STATUS

African leopard is not listed by the IUCN. Four subspecies (south Arabian, Anatolian, Amur, and Barbary leopards) are Critically Endangered, the Zanzibar leopard is possibly extinct. Inbreeding, loss of prey base, and human persecution are the main threats.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Trade in leopard skins during the 1970s and '80s raised fears about survival of the species, but changing public opinion about fur and trade controls imposed by CITES led to a market collapse. Hunting for skin and loss of prey to the bushmeat trade continues to affect numbers in West Africa, but elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa the leopard population seems generally buoyant despite pressure from habitat degradation and persecution by farmers. Leopards take livestock where natural prey is depleted and occasionally kill humans. Trophy hunting by quota is allowed in some countries. ♦

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