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Panthera pardus


The leopard has an elongate, muscular body that can be from three to eight feet in length, including two to three feet of tail. Size varies from one part of the leopard's range to another, but males are always considerably larger than females; individuals can weigh anywhere from 55 to 150 pounds.


The most distinguishing feature of the leopard is its coat, which ranges in background color from tawny to deep rusty yellow, with many small dark spots which on most of the body are arranged in rosettes. Black leopards are also relatively common, especially in densely forested areas where such coloration provides a camouflage benefit. Although black leopards have spots just like "normal" leopards, the spots are masked by the darkness of their fur. It is not uncommon for both "normal" and black leopards to be born in the same litter.

black leopard

Distribution and Habitat

Leopards are found in southern Asia and much of Africa south of the Sahara, as well as widespread areas of the Atlas Mountains. They live wherever adequate cover is available, from swamp forest to bush, in scrub, and on rocky hillsides.

range of the leopard

Habits and Behaviors

The leopard is a shy and wary animal, and is so well camouflaged that it can easily go undetected, even when living around human populations. It is almost always seen alone, except when breeding. In areas where it is hunted the leopard is nocturnal, otherwise it is most active in the early morning and again in the late afternoon into early evening.

An excellent tree climber, it is not uncommon for a leopard to lurk in a tree and wait for unsuspecting prey to walk by. Leopards are also strong leapers and jumpers, with leaps of up to seven feet high and jumps up to twenty feet long not being uncommon.

leopard climbing a tree

Leopards are very territorial, with males generally having large territories that intersect several females' territories. Territorial boundaries are marked with urine, feces, facial marking, and scrapes on the ground and trees.


A leopard will prey on just about anything that moves, from dung beetles to antelopes much larger that itself. It prefers to ambush its prey, dropping out of a tree and seizing it by the throat. A very muscular and fit animal, a leopard can easily carry its kill into a tree, which it often does to keep it safe from other predators.


Leopards probably breed year round. Gestation takes 90 to 105 days, after which one to six cubs are born. The mother makes her den in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or any other suitable location that is safe from predation by other large cats. Cubs are born blind, their fur is usually longer and thicker than that of adults, and they are generally more gray in color with less defined spots. The eyes open at about ten days, and the cubs can begin following their mother at about three months. Cubs usually stay with their mother for 18 to 24 months, after which they go their separate ways and establish their own territories. Although most parental care is given by the female, the male may help by bringing her and the cubs food.

Conservation Status

Although leopards are relatively plentiful within most of their range, they are threatened in some areas due to heavy poaching for their fur (which commands high prices on the black market), as well as from ranchers fearful of livestock losses.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Carnivora
family Felidae
subfamily Pantherinae
genus & species Panthera pardus

Dr. Maurice Burton and Robert Burton Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1974

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The Robinson Library >> Family Felidae

This page was last updated on June 19, 2018.