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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
genus & species Panthera pardus
Dr. Maurice Burton and Robert Burton Funk
& Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia
New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1974
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Panthera_pardus/
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