Leopard
Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Panthera pardus
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
10-20 years
Top speed
58
36
km/hmph
km/h mph 
Weight
28-90
61.6-198
kglbs
kg lbs 
Height
57-70
22.4-27.6
cminch
cm inch 
Length
90-190
35.4-74.8
cminch
cm inch 

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the five extant species in the genus Panthera, a member of the cat family, Felidae. The leopard is distinguished by its well-camouflaged fur, opportunistic hunting behavior, broad diet, strength, and its ability to adapt to a variety of habitats ranging from rainforest to steppe, including arid and montane areas. It can run at speeds of up to 58 km/h (36 mph). The earliest known leopard fossils excavated in Europe are estimated 600,000 years old, dating to the late Early Pleistocene. Leopard fossils were also found in Japan and Sumatra.

Appearance

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 depend 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.

Video

Distribution

Geography

These cats are distributed across a 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 including savanna and rainforest, grasslands, desert and semi-desert regions of southern Africa, woodlands, and riverine forests. In Java, leopards inhabit dense tropical rainforests and dry deciduous forests in mountainous areas. Outside protected areas, they can be found in mixed agricultural land and secondary forest. In the Russian Far East, these animals live in temperate coniferous forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C (−13 °F).

Leopard habitat map

Climate zones

Leopard habitat map
Leopard
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Habits and Lifestyle

Leopards are generally asocial animals, 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 the territories of multiple females. Females live with their cubs in home ranges that overlap extensively and continue to interact with their offspring even after weaning; females may even share kills with their offspring when they can not obtain any prey. Leopards are active mainly from dusk till dawn and rest for most of the day and for some hours at night in thickets, among rocks, or over tree branches. In some regions, they are nocturnal. Leopards usually hunt on the ground and depend mainly on their acute senses of hearing and vision for hunting. They stalk their prey and try to approach it as closely as possible, typically within 5 m (16 ft) of the target, and, finally, pounce on it and kill it by suffocation. Leopards produce a number of vocalizations, including growls, snarls, meows, and purrs. Cubs call their mother with an 'urr-urr' sound. 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.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

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.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
year-round, peak in May
PREGNANCY DURATION
90-105 days
BABY CARRYING
2-4 cubs
INDEPENDENT AGE
18-24 months
FEMALE NAME
leopardess
MALE NAME
leopard
BABY NAME
cub

Leopards have polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system, where both males and females mate with a number of mates. They breed throughout the year with a peak period, occurring in May, during the rainy season. The gestation period lasts for 90-105 days, yielding from 2 to 4 cubs. Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow trees, or thicket. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open 4 to 9 days after birth. 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 young attain their dark, woolly coat, covered with blurry patches, which serves young leopards as camouflage, allowing them to follow their mother around. Reaching the age of 3 months, the cubs are weaned, accompanying their mother on a hunt. On the whole, they remain with their mother for 18-24 months, after which they leave to find their own territories. Young leopards start breeding when they are between 2 and 3 years old.

Population

Population threats

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 Eurasia are exposed to illegal trade.

Population number

The global population of these animals is unknown today, except for specific populations in certain areas of their distribution. Thus, the population in Africa is estimated to be more than 700,000 individuals, whereas the 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 a Vulnerable (VU) species.

Ecological niche

Leopards are top predators of their habitat, playing a significant role in the local ecosystem by controlling the numbers and health of the populations of wild ungulate species.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Leopards can occasionally be seen passing through antelope herds without disturbing them. This happens when the animal simply roams without looking for prey. In order to inform antelopes that it's not hunting, the leopard usually flips its tail over the back, exposing the white underside.
  • Leopards are closely related to Black panthers, living in humid forests. As a matter of fact, the latters are leopards, but with recessive melanistic genes.
  • Compared to humans, these animals have an incredibly developed sense of hearing; leopards are able to hear five times more sounds than humans.
  • Markings, covering their body, are called rosettes due to reminding roses of their shape.
  • Along with the tiger, lion, and jaguar, the leopard is one of four big cats, meanwhile being the smallest of them.
  • For safety, leopards tend to store their kills in trees, avoiding the disturbance of lions and hyenas that usually try to take away their kill.
  • Leopards are exceptionally good swimmers and excellent jumpers, able to leap up to 6 meters forward and 3 meters high.
  • Throughout history, this animal has played an important role in the artwork, mythology, and folklore of many countries of its habitat. Even now, the leopard is used as a sports emblem in most African countries.

Coloring Pages

References

1. Leopard Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopard
2. Leopard on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0

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