Leopard (scientific name: Panthera pardus) is one of the five big cat species in the genus Panthera, a member of the Felidae. The other members of the Panthera genus are Lion (Panthera leo), tiger (Panthera tigris), jaguar (Panthera onca), and snow leopard (Panthera uncia). Leopard is the fourth biggest cat in the world, after tiger, lion, and jaguar. Here are 20 amazing leopard facts.
The leopard’s success in the wild is due to its well-camouflaged fur; its opportunistic hunting behavior, broad diet, and strength to move heavy carcasses into trees; its ability to adapt to various habitats ranging from rainforest to steppe and including arid and montane areas; and to run at speeds up to 58 kilometers per hour (36 mph).
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the five “big cats” (Tiger, Lion, Jaguar, Leopard, and Snow Leopard) in the genus Panthera. Compared to other members of Felidae, the leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It is similar in appearance to the jaguar, but is smaller and more lightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the jaguar, but the leopard’s rosettes are smaller and more densely packed and do not usually have central spots as the jaguars do.
Males are larger and heavier than females, like the other big cats.
Their size varies geographically. Males stand 60-70 cm (24-28 in) at the shoulder, while females are 57-64 cm (22-25 in) tall. The head-and-body length ranges between 90 and 196 cm (35 and 77 in) with a 66 to 102 cm (26 to 40 in) long tail.
Related: 20 amazing snow leopard facts
Males weigh 37-90 kilograms (82-198 lb), and females 28-60 kilograms (62-132 lb).
These large carnivores are powerfully built with long bodies, relatively short legs, and a broadhead. There are nine subspecies and are distinguished by the unique characteristics of their coats, which range from tawny or light yellow in warm, dry habitats to reddish-orange in dense forests.
Their coat is covered in dark, irregular spots called rosettes. These spots are circular in East African leopards, but square in southern African leopards.
1. Leopards are powerful and opportunistic hunters
Leopards feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the genus Panthera They are reported to eat anything from dung beetles to common elands (a savannah and plains antelope found in East and Southern Africa).
They mostly hunt medium-sized prey species in the 20-80 kg (44-176 lb) range.
The largest prey reported killed by a leopard was a 900 kg (2,000 lb) male eland! They generally do not prey on such large animals, though.
2. They can move heavy carcasses into trees
Leopards are very skillful tree climbers. They often rest on tree branches.
But trees are way more important than being sleeping places for leopards: they most probably lose their kills to brown hyenas, if they are unable to move the kill into a tree.
But, luckily for them, due to their massive skull and powerful jaw muscles, leopards are strong enough to drag carcasses heavier than themselves up into trees.
An individual was seen to haul a young giraffe, weighing nearly 125 kg (276 lb), up 5.7 meters (19 feet) into a tree.
3. Leopards can see seven times better in the dark than humans
Like all cats, leopards see way better in the dark than humans, thanks to their adapted retinas.
4. Black leopards exist
Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic (the opposite of albinism) are known as black panthers.
5. Their coat color and rosette patterns depend on the location
In East Africa, their rosettes are more circular. They tend to be more square-shaped in southern Africa. The yellow coat is paler in the desert regions because a light coat in color is a much better camouflage in the desert.
Related: Hybrid Big Cats
6. They are the most widely distributed African big cat
Leopards tend to favor rocky landscapes with dense bush and riverine forests, but they have also been shown to be highly adaptable to many places in both warm and cold climates.
Despite their populations being fragmented and declining, they can be found widely in Africa as well as the Caucasus and Asia. They were living even in Anatolia (Turkey) as recently as the early 1970s (there are unconfirmed rumors that they are still living in east Anatolia).
Their habitat can range from deserts and steppes to tropical rainforests, high mountains to coasts.
7. They can roar
They can roar like the other big cats in the Panthera genus with the exception of snow leopard (the smallest of the five big cats).
They rarely roar, though. Their usual voice is more of a raspy bark.
8. They can also purr!
They are the largest of the felines that can purr.
They produce a number of vocalizations, including growls, snarls, even meows, and purrs.
9. They are fast!
Leopards can run up to 58 km/h (36 mph). But for short bursts.
10. They are spectacular hunters
They are fast (see Nr. 9), agile, muscular, and agile. They can see perfectly in the dark. A perfect combination for a good hunt.
11. They spend most of their time on the ground
Despite being perfect climbers, research shows that they usually spend their time on the ground. This is especially true for leopards living in steppes or deserts, where trees are rare or non-existent.
12. They are solitary
They are predominantly solitary animals, like other big cats except for lions. They have large territories (male territories are larger than that of females).
13. They are amazing jumpers
They can leap 6 meters (20 feet) forward through the air. They can also jump 3 meters (10 feet) straight up.
14. They are nocturnal animals
Leopards, like all big cats, tend to be nocturnal. They are mostly active at night. They perform most of their hunting after dusk when it’s cooler, so most of their sleep is accumulated during the day. It’s also good for avoiding the hot African sun.
They mostly spend their daytime resting, camouflaged in the trees, or hiding in caves.
15. They produce a variety of sounds
They communicate with each other through distinctive calls. They roar to mark territory, growl when angry, and, like domestic house cats, purr when content, happy, and relaxed.
16. Leopard means “spotted lion”
The name ‘leopard’ is thought to derive from a Greek compound of λέων ‘leōn’ meaning lion and πάρδος ‘pardos’ meaning spotted.
17. They do not drink a lot of water
They can live without drinking water for as long as 10 days, surviving on the moisture they get from eating their prey.
18. They are strong swimmers
They are not as aquatic as tigers but are strong swimmers and are one of the few cats that like water.
19. Their lifespan is similar to other big cats
The lifespan of a leopard is between 12 and 17 years in the wild and up to 23 years in captivity.
20. The cubs continue to live with their mothers for about two years
A female typically gives birth to a litter of two or three cubs. She abandons her nomadic lifestyle until the cubs are large enough to accompany her. She keeps them hidden for the first eight weeks and moves them from one location to the next until they are old enough to start learning to hunt.
The cubs get their first taste of meat in six or seven weeks and stop suckling after about three months. The cubs continue to live with their mothers for about two years.
Bonus fact: after killing his mother, the leopard protects a baby baboon
Once a leopard killed a baboon in order to feed herself. However, upon noticing an infant baboon clinging to the dead baboon, the big cat amazingly carried the infant up to the safety of the tree to guard her against hyenas. She groomed and cuddled the baby throughout the night, caring for him/her as she would her own cub.
Some not-amazing leopard facts
As of 2019, Leopards are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Their current population trend is “decreasing”.
These amazing big cats are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation and are declining in large parts of the global range. The primary threat to them is human activity, as always. In Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuwait, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and most likely in Morocco, leopard populations have already been extirpated.
Contemporary records suggest that the leopard occurs in only 25% of its historical global range. Leopards are hunted illegally, and their body parts are smuggled into the wildlife trade for medicinal practices and decoration.
Human-leopard conflicts also occur due to they are preying on livestock
- Leopard on Wikipedia
- “11 Leopard facts you need to know” on the Africa Geographic website
- Leopard (Panthera pardus) on the San Diego Zoo website
- Leopard on the African Wildlife Foundation website
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