As the largest spotted cat in Africa and Asia, the leopard combines the power and strength of the big cats with the grace and versatility of the smaller cats. The leopard’s big cat characteristics include a long, well-muscled body, thick limbs, and broad, powerful paws. Its small cat characteristics include the ability to climb exceptionally well: the leopard is agile and at ease in the trees, able to descend down a tree headfirst. The leopard also swims well.
- Scientific Designation: Panthera pardus
- Endangered Status: Vulnerable (VU)
- Lifespan: 12-17 years (wild)
- Weight: 28-90 kg
- Length: 91-292 cm
- Shoulder Height: 45-78 cm
- Tail Length: 58-97 cm
The leopard is similar in appearance to the jaguar, though it would be easy to tell the two species apart.
The jaguar is generally larger than the leopard. It has a larger, wider head. The coats of both of these roaring cats are marked with rosettes, but leopards usually have smaller rosettes than do jaguars. The markings of the leopard are composites of black spots (rosettes) that vary in size, shape, and thickness. These rosettes cover much of the leopard’s body. Solid black spots of varying size also cover the lower limbs, belly, throat, and face. Furthermore, individual leopards can be identified by their spot patterns and coat characteristics. The background coat is highly variable and ranges from nearly golden to ochreous, grayish yellow, pale red, or buffy gray.
The solitary leopard is generally nocturnal, especially in areas of human inhabitation or in areas where they share habitat with lions and tigers. This species does most of its hunting on the ground, but climbs without hesitation when necessary. Relatively little detailed information exists for this cat. However, it is known that leopards often catch prey opportunistically: preying on rodents, rabbits, ungulates, pigs, monkeys, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and domestic animals. It is the latter that have gotten the leopard into trouble.
The leopard’s extensive distribution ranges throughout Asia and Africa. A stealthy, bold, and versatile cat, the leopard is found in many different habitat types throughout its range. However, the leopard is absent from true deserts. Found at sea level up to 5,000 meters, the leopard can be found in nearly all habitat types, including forest, acacia savanna, and mountainous terrain.
Distribution map courtesy of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), compiled in 2019 by Peter Gengross.
Threats to the Leopard
The leopard is in the strange position of being critically endangered in some parts of its range and considered a pest in other areas. The greatest threat to the leopard is the expansion of livestock husbandry. The introduction of livestock often causes the leopard’s wild prey to be eliminated. As a result, leopards prey on the livestock and become the object of persecution.
The leopard is currently classified under Vulnerable (VU) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is protected under appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
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