This middle-sized wild cat has a slim and long body with short, sturdy legs and a long tail, helping the animal to keep balance when in the trees. The head is broad and the skull is large, having strong and powerful jaw muscles. The ears are small and round. The eyebrows exhibit long hairs, protecting the eyes of the animal as it moves through dense vegetation. There are also long whiskers, stretching from dark markings on the upper lip of the animal. The overall coloration and markings of their coat greatly depends on the environment. Thus, leopards, living on open grasslands, typically exhibit a light yellow background fur. Meanwhile, the coat of those, found in forests, is usually darker and covered with more markings. The black rosettes, covering their body, are square-like in populations of South Africa, being circular in those of East Africa. The tail is ringed, and the animal has distinct black markings on its face, chest and feet.
These cats are distributed across huge area, stretching from sub-Saharan Africa to West Asia and the Middle East, reaching South and Southeast Asia and Siberia. Leopards are found in a wide variety of habitats, though they usually give preference to areas, covered with trees. They typically live in woodlands, forests and grassland savannas. Less frequently, they occur in mountainous areas as well as scrublands and deserts.
This animal hunts at night, usually on the ground or in trees. Leopard is generally asocial animal, living solitarily and avoiding other leopards. Moreover, when leopards accidentally encounter each other, they can engage in a fight. Usually, the animal emits a rasping or sawing cough, in order to inform other leopards of its presence. Home ranges of leopards usually overlap with each other. Thus, the home range of a male leopard can often overlap with territories of multiple females. Being exceptional climbers, these animals spend most of the daytime hours resting under sheltered rocks or in shady places among tree branches. In order to warn intruders, leopards usually scratch trees, leaving claw marks. In addition, due to having a highly developed sense of smell, they often use scent marks.
Leopards are carnivores. The diet of these opportunistic feeders includes a huge variety of animals such as jackals, antelopes, gazelles, monkeys, duiker, eland, impala, wildebeest, birds, rodents, hyraxes, hares, snakes, sheep, goats and insects. Leopards attain all required moisture from their food, so they can survive without drinking water for long periods of time.
Leopards have polygynandrous mating system, where both males and females mate with a number of mates. They breed throughout the year with peak period, occurring in May, during the rainy season. Gestation period lasts for 90-105 days, yielding from 2 to 4 cubs. The babies are born in a den. Being extremely vulnerable in the wild, the cubs remain hidden, living in a secluded place, covered with dense vegetation. By the age of 6 - 8 weeks, the babies attain their dark, woolly coat, covered with blurry patches, which serves young leopards as a camouflage, allowing them to follow their mother around. Reaching the age of 3 months, the babies are weaned, accompanying their mother at hunt. On the whole, they remain with their mother for 13 - 18 months, after which they leave to find their own territories. They start breeding at 2- 3 years old.
Presently, this animal suffers from loss and fragmentation of its natural habitat. Pest control is another serious concern, reducing the population of Leopards throughout their range. In central and western Africa, the animal is hunted for its skin and teeth, which are used in traditional rituals and ceremonial dresses. On the other hand, populations in Europe and Asia are exposed to illegal trade.
The global population of these animals is unknown for today, except for specific populations in certain areas of their distribution. Thus, population in Africa is estimated to more than 700,000 individuals, whereas population in India varies from 12,000 to 14,000 animals. However, the population of the species as a whole is currently declining, and the Leopard is classified on the UICN Red List as Vulnerable (VU) species.
Leopards are top predators of their habitat, playing significant role in the local ecosystem by controlling numbers and health of the populations of wild ungulate species.