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Leopard – The Silent Hunter of the Forest

African leopard in its natural habitat

The Leopard (Panthera Pardus) is one of the members of the genus Panthera and also a member of the Felidae family where along with the other big cats it dominates the top of the food chain in their habitat.

Compared to other big cats, the leopard has a big skull, shorter legs and a longer body, which is very useful when climbing into the trees.

Brief history of the Leopard

The fossils of the ancestors of the modern leopard have been found in South Asia and East Africa.

The modern leopard has evolved in Africa about 500,000 to 800,000 years ago and reached Asia between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago.

In Europe, fossils of the ancestors of the leopard have been discovered in France, the U.K., Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

The European Ice Age leopard (P. p. spelaea) is the most recent European leopard that survived in Europe until about 24,000 years ago.

Leopard Taxonomy

The leopard is part of the Felidae family and one of the members of the genus Panthera where along with the jaguar, the snow leopard, the lion and the tiger are dominating the forests in Africa and Asia.

There are several known subspecies of leopard that live today in Africa and Asia.

1. African leopard (P. p. pardus) is the leopard that can be found in almost all the sub-Saharan African countries.

This is the leopard that dominates with ease all the forests in sub-Saharan Africa.

2. Indian leopard (Indian (P. p. fusca) is the leopard that can be found in all the countries of the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan).

3. Javan leopard (P. p. melas) is the leopard that lives in the Java island of Indonesia, and is considered critically endangered.

4. Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr) is the smallest leopard known today, females reach a weight of only 40 lbs. (18 kg), while the males are only a little larger.

This tiny leopard can be found in the Arabian Peninsula, in countries such as: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

In the Sinai Peninsula this leopard is considered extinct.

5. Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana) and the Persian leopard (P. p. ciscaucasica) these leopards live in Eastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, the Caucasus, southern Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, northern Iran and Iraq.

It is considered extinct in southwestern Turkey.

6. Amur leopard (P. p. orientalis) and the North-Chinese leopard (P. p. japonensis) can be found in the Russian Far East and in central and north China.

It is considered extinct in the Korean peninsula.

7. Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) is the leopard that lives in Sri Lanka.

8. Indochinese leopard (P. p. delacouri) is the leopard that lives in Southeast Asia, in countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, South China and Vietnam.

Leopard Characteristics

The leopard is a pretty big and muscular cat with a big skull, short and robust limbs and a long body with a powerful tail.

This cat is extremely agile and very powerful this is the reason why it can hunt and lift up in the tree pretty large and heavy animals.

The color of the leopard’s skin differs from one climate and habitat to another.

Leopard’s living in Africa, Asia minor, Iran and Sri Lanka have a pale yellow skin, while the leopard’s living in India, the Java island, in China, Southeast Asia and in the Russian Far East have a golden or yellowish brown skin.

The dark spots become rosettes on the back, flanks and hindquarters and become smaller and faded towards the white underbelly, on the lower side of the legs and also on the inside of the legs.

The white-tipped tail has a length between 24 and 39 inches (60 and 100 centimeters), is white underneath and has spots that become incomplete bands towards the end of the tail.

The fur is thick but soft, especially on the belly and becomes longer if the cat lives in a colder climate.

The leopard is a cat with pronounced sexual dimorphism because males are larger and heavier than females, reaching a height at the shoulder of 24 to 28 inches (60 to 70 centimeters), and the females a height at the shoulder of only 22 to 25 inches (57 to 64 centimeters).

Males weigh between 82 and 198 lbs. (37 – 90 kg), while females are way smaller, weighing 62 to 132 lbs. (28 to 60 kg).

The black panther is also a leopard, but is the melanistic leopard.

Leopard Behavior

Leopards are not social animals, they rather live solitary lives and they are also very territorial.

Adults will interact only during the mating season, and females will continue to interact with their offspring after weaning by sharing the prey.

Male leopards are way more solitary and territorial.

However, male leopards have been seen interacting with their cubs.

Leopard Hunting Habit

Leopards are nocturnal animals and they rest almost all day long and maybe a few hours during the night.

They become active at dusk, but in the western African forests they are mostly diurnal and they start hunting at twilight.

While running, they can reach a speed of about 37 mph (60 km/h) and because they are very agile and strong animals they can climb in trees very quickly.

To avoid losing the kill, they are used to drag their kills up in the trees and hanging them there.

Leopards usually hunt prey with a weight between 22 and 88 lbs. (10 to 40 kg).

However, besides Impala, Thomson’s gazelle, Steenbok, Duiker, Bushbuck, antelopes and many others, they like to hunt larger and more dangerous animals such as warthogs, blue wildebeest, Nyala, Kudu, deer, Wild boar and Gaur in Asia, and less often baboons, gorillas and even people.

From time to time they can hunt crocodiles.

Competition from other predators

In their habitat, leopards need to compete with other predators, which usually are larger and more powerful such as lions and tigers.

In Africa and Asia, besides lions and tigers, leopards compete against cheetahs, spotted hyenas, brown hyenas, striped hyenas, wild dogs, bears and other smaller predators.

Having the ability to climb fast in the trees and lift the kill up in the tree, leopards have an advantage against the other predators.

They usually lose the prey only if the kill is still on the ground and are taken by surprise by other predators.

Spotted hyenas and African wild dogs usually attack in groups and if the leopard is caught with the prey on the ground, in almost all the cases the cat will lose its kill.

They can be killed by lions or tigers only if they are stalked and attacked by surprise and they have no chance to run and climb in the trees.

Leopards live in their habitat between 12 and 17 years, but in captivity the oldest leopard ever recorded was a female that died at the age of 24 years, while the oldest male has died in captivity at the age of 23.

Leopard Conservation

Leopards are considered today vulnerable and their number decreases mostly due to the loss of their habitat and due to hunting and poaching.

Leopards prefer arid regions, desert and semi-desert areas, savannah grasslands, rainforests, mountain areas and from time to time even urban areas.

This could be the reason why they are hunted not only as trophies, but also to remove the danger created by a leopard that attacks and eats people.

They are also hunted for their fur and for objects used as fetishes such as claws, whiskers and tails, and their body parts are smuggled on the trade market for medicinal practices.

People will also hunt and kill them in areas where leopards attack and kill livestock.

If conservation efforts will not be taken seriously, the decline of the many species of leopard in their natural habitats will continue.

Leopard distribution in Africa and Asia

Leopard range in Africa and Asia.

Article written by:

Darius Savin is a lifelong animal lover and protector and the chief editor of Checkmember. He writes and edits articles and is also the creator of the distribution maps for all the creatures featured here.