The leopard, Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four “big cats” in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, 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, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a “Near Threatened” species on the IUCN Red List.
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, but is smaller and more slightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes 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 are known as black panthers.
The species’ success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic 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 to desert terrains.
Leopards are agile and stealthy predators. Although they are smaller than other members of the Panthera genus, they are able to take large prey due to their massive skulls that facilitate powerful jaw muscles. Head and body length is usually between 90 and 165 cm (35 and 65 in). The tail reaches 60 to 110 cm (24 to 43 in) long, around the same length as the tiger’s tail and relatively the longest tail in the Panthera genus (though snow leopards and the much smaller marbled cats are relatively longer tailed). Shoulder height is from 45 to 80 cm (18 to 31 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 to 200 lb) compared to 23 to 60 kg (51 to 130 lb) for females. Large males of up to 91 kg (200 lb) have been documented in Kruger National Park in South Africa; however, males in South Africa’s coastal mountains average 31 kg (68 lb) and the females from the desert-edge in Somalia average 23 to 27 kg (51 to 60 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 (P. p. nimr), from deserts of the Middle East, with adult females of this race weighing as little as 17 kg (37 lb).
Other large subspecies, in which males weigh up to 91 kg (200 lb), are the Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) and the Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana). Such larger leopards tend to be found in areas which lack tigers and lions, thus putting the leopard at the top of the food chain with no competitive restriction from large prey items. The largest verified leopards weighed 96.5 kg (213 lb) and can reach 190 cm (75 in) in head-and-body length. Larger sizes have been reported but are generally considered unreliable. The leopard’s body is comparatively long, and its legs are short.
Photo By Tambako the Jaguar