The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent. The Indian leopard is one of the big cats occurring on the Indian subcontinent, along with the Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, Snow leopard and Clouded leopard.
The Indian leopard has strong legs and a long well-formed tail, a broad muzzle, short ears, and small, yellowish-grey eyes, light grey ocular bulbs. Its coat is spotted and rosetted on a pale yellow to the yellowish-brown or golden background, except for the melanistic forms; the spots fade toward the white underbelly and the insides and lower parts of the legs. Rosettes are most prominent on the back, flanks, and hindquarters. The pattern of the rosettes is unique to each individual. Juveniles have woolly fur and appear dark due to the densely arranged spots. The white-tipped tail is white underneath and displays rosettes, which form incomplete bands toward the end. The rosettes are larger in other leopard subspecies in Asia. Fur color tends to be more pale and cream in arid habitats, more gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats.
Indian leopards are found in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and parts of Pakistan. Bangladesh has no viable leopard population but there are occasional sightings in the forests of Sylhet, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and Cox's Bazar. Indian leopards prefer to live in tropical rainforests, dry deciduous forests, temperate forests, and northern coniferous forests but do not occur in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. In Pakistan, they inhabit Himalayan forests and mountainous regions. Leopards are also occasionally spotted in the Margalla Hills in winter.
Leopards are elusive, and solitary animals. They are active mainly from dusk till dawn but in some regions, they are nocturnal. Home ranges of leopards usually overlap with each other. Thus, the home range of a male 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 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 are known to be excellent climbers and often rest on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. Leopards are also powerful swimmers. They are very agile and can run at over 58 km per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 m (20 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 m (9.8 ft) vertically. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and purrs.
Indian leopards are opportunistic hunters and have a very broad diet. In Sariska Tiger Reserve, they prey on Axis deer, Sambar deer, nilgai, Wild boars, Common langurs, Indian hares, and peafowl. In Periyar Tiger Reserve, primates make up a large proportion of their diet.
Leopards have polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system, where both males and females mate with a number of mates. Depending on the region, Indian leopards mate all year round. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days and females usually give birth to a litter of 2-4 cubs. Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open 4 to 9 days after birth. Around 3 months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, young leopards can probably fend for themselves but remain with their mother for 18-24 months.
A significant immediate threat to wild leopard populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal, and China. Skins are rough-cured in the field and handed over to dealers, who send them for further treatment to Indian tanning centers. Buyers choose the skins from dealers or tanneries and smuggle them through a complex interlinking network to markets outside India, mainly in China. Other serious threats to Indian leopards include loss of habitat and fragmentation of formerly connected populations and various levels of human-leopard conflict in human-dominated landscapes. Expansion of agriculturally used land and encroachment by humans and their livestock into protected areas are the main factors contributing to habitat loss and the decrease of wild prey. As a result, leopards approach human settlements, where they are tempted to prey on dogs, pigs, and goats - domestic livestock, which constitute an important part of their diet if they live on the periphery of human habitations. In retaliation for attacks on livestock, leopards are shot, poisoned, and trapped in snares. The leopards are considered to be unwanted trespassers by villagers. As urban areas expanded, the natural habitats of Indian leopards shrunk resulting in animals venturing into urbanized areas due to easy access to domestic food sources. Every year more leopards are killed by humans than humans killed by leopards. On average nearly 400 leopards are reported killed yearly in India, Nepal, and China combined based on the leopard skins caught from poachers, though the actual number of leopards killed by humans is likely to be several times higher.
According to IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Indian leopard is 12,000-14,000 individuals. This subspecies may be potentially qualified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List due to a suspected declining population containing fewer than 10,000 mature individuals.
As top predators leopards play a significant role in the local ecosystem by controlling the numbers and health of the populations of wild ungulate species.