AppearanceCompared 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 jaguar's do. Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic are known as black panthers.
Leopards show a great diversity in coat colour and rosettes patterns. In general, the coat colour varies from pale yellow to deep gold or tawny, and is patterned with black rosettes.
The head, lower limbs and belly are spotted with solid black. Coat colour and patterning are broadly associated with habitat type. Their rosettes are circular in East Africa but tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations.
Their yellow coat tends to be more pale and cream coloured in desert populations, more gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats. Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter coloured and of a softer, downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along the face, limbs and underbelly.
Leopards are agile and stealthy predators. Although they are smaller than most other members of the ''Panthera'' genus, they are able to take large prey due to their massive skulls that facilitate powerful jaw muscles.
Head and body length is usually between 90 and 165 cm. The tail reaches 60 to 110 cm long, around the same length as the tiger's tail and proportionately long for the genus. Shoulder height is from 45 to 80 cm.
The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhance their ability to climb trees. They are very diverse in size. Males are about 30% larger than females, weighing 30 to 91 kg compared to 23 to 60 kg for females.
The leopard's body is comparatively long, and its legs are short. The largest verified leopards weighed 96.5 kg and reached 190 cm in head-and-body length. Larger sizes have been reported but are generally considered unreliable.
DistributionLeopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring widely in Africa as well as eastern and southern Asia, although populations have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
StatusIt is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List because leopard populations are declining in large parts of their range. They are threatened by habitat loss and pest control.
Their habitats are fragmented and they are illegally hunted so that their pelts may be sold in wildlife trade for medicinal practices and decoration. They have been extirpated in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuwait, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and most likely Morocco.
BehaviorLeopards are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. They have primarily been studied in open savanna habitats, which may have biased common descriptions. Activity level varies depending on the habitat and the type of prey that they hunt.
Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst.
They are powerful swimmers, although are not as disposed to swimming as some other big cats, such as the tiger. They are very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometres per hour, leap over 6 metres horizontally, and jump up to 3 metres vertically.
They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and purrs.
Home ranges of male leopards vary between 30 km2 and 78 km2 , and of females between 15 to 16 km2. There seems to be little or no overlap in territory among males, although overlap exists between the sexes.
The average typical life span of a leopard is between 12 and 17 years.
HabitatLeopards are exceptionally adaptable, although associated primarily with savanna and rainforest. Populations thrive anywhere in the species range where grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests remain largely undisturbed.
In the Russian Far East, they inhabit temperate forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C. They are equally adept surviving in some of the world's most humid rainforests and even semi-arid desert edges.
ReproductionDepending on the region, leopards may mate all year round.
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 four to nine days after birth. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in colour with less defined spots.
Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18–24 months.
FoodLeopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the ''Panthera'' genus, and are reported to eat anything from dung beetles to common elands, though medium-sized prey species in the 20–80 kg range are usually taken.
The largest prey reported killed by a leopard was a 900 kg male eland. although leopards generally do not prey on such large animals.
Their diet consists mostly of ungulates, followed by primates, primarily monkeys of various species, including the Vervet monkey. However, they will also opportunistically eat rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds, fish and sometimes smaller predators.
They stalk their prey silently, pounce on it at the last minute, and strangle its throat with a quick bite. In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of their prey, especially impala and Thomson's gazelles.
EvolutionFossils of early leopard ancestors have been found in East Africa and South Asia from the Pleistocene of 2 to 3.5 Ma. The modern leopard is suggested to have evolved in Africa 470,000–825,000 years ago and radiated across Asia 170,000–300,000 years ago.
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