Leopard belongs to the family Felidae. It is one of the extant species of the genus Panthera. It is also called Panther, a large cat that is similar to a tiger, lion, and jaguar. Leopard is an English name which is from the Old French language ‘leupart’ that is derived from the Latin language ‘leopardus’. The leopardus word could be a combination of lion and pardos. Earlier the word ‘leopardus’ was referred to as cheetah.
Let us learn more about leopards, their characteristics, habitat, classification, and some interesting facts.
Leopards have the largest distribution of wild cats in the world which are found widely in Africa, the Caucasus, and Asia. They are found mostly in Savannah, rainforests, and in the areas where grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests are not distributed.
The population of leopards is small in the area’s Arabian Peninsula. In the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area of Nepal, the melanistic leopards are photographed.
Leopard habitats in India are Shivalik hills, Gangetic plains, Eastern ghats, Western ghats riven basin of Brahmaputra, and hills of Northeast India.
In Srilanka, leopard habitats are found in the Yala National Park, tea estates, grasslands, pine, and eucalyptus plantations.
The leopard scientific name is Felis pardus, which is proposed by Carl Linnaeus.
Species: P. Pardus
The generic name Panthera was proposed by Loren Oken in 1816 who included all the spotted cats in this group.
The characteristics of leopard are as follows:
They are large and powerful cats with stronger limbs.
The colour varies from habitat to habitat, where the darker ones are found in forests and paler ones are found in arid and open habitats. Dark spots are found on the skin with shades of orange, pale cream, grey, and brown background.
They have long and densely-haired tails.
Ears are short and rounded, which can be movable to scan the sounds around them.
The colour of the eyes is yellow-green.
The forefeet is larger than the hind feet with sharp and curvy claws. It has five digits in the forefeet and 4 in the hind feet.
Leopard weight: In males weight is about 37 to 90 kgs, and in females, it is about 28 to 6 kgs.
Leopard height: The height is about 3 feet to 6.3 feet, and it is the same in both males and females.
Types of Leopards
The different types of leopards are,
Snow Leopard is a large wild cat, classified as Vulnerable and mostly occurred in high altitudes of the Himalayas in India.
One of the best places to spot the snow leopard in India is Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal, the grey with black spot leopard habitat is found in the snow-capped Indian Himalayas.
Clouded Leopard is one of the small species of the Indian big cats, it is listed as Vulnerable and is found in a wide range of Himalayan foothills in North East India.
Black Leopard/ Black Panther:
The melanistic colour variant of Indian Leopard is known as Black Panther. These are found in Nagarhole National Park, Tadoba National Park, and Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary.
Cat Leopard/ Leopard Cat:
The leopard cat is usually not considered as a species of big cats but is a small wild cat that is found in the Indian Subcontinent. The characteristics features include they are carnivorous, solitary, and they differ widely in the colour of their fur, tail length, size depending on habitat, and found feeding on a variety of prey.
There are seven different species of leopards:
The species that are native to the African continent are known as African leopards. Depending on the location it is present these leopards show variations in the coat colour. These are sexually dimorphic and the male leopards are larger and heavier than the females.
It is a subspecies that is native to Russia and China. These are listed in the IUCN Red List as endangered species. Their territory is located in the river basin areas and depending on the family size they increase their territory area.
These are also known as Persian leopard, it is distributed in the areas of Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, Southern Russia, and the Caucasus. The species are listed in the IUCN Red List as of 2016.
These are also known as North-African leopards, found in the Atlas mountain region of North Africa. Only a small number of species is present in northern Africa.
South Arabian Leopard:
The subspecies are native to the regions of the Arabian peninsula, the population is found to be fragmented. These are considered to be critically endangered species and have been added to the Red List since 1996.
It is a subspecies found in Unguja Island in the Zanzibar archipelago. In the mid-1990s a leopard conservation program was developed when the researchers found that there were only a few species of leopard that survived.
Some interesting facts about leopards are:
Leopards are astoundingly strong. They are capable of climbing the trees, even when carrying heavy prey and during the daytime, they often choose to rest on tree branches. One reason why leopards sometimes take their prey up in the trees, when the prey is kept on the ground there is a possibility that the lions or hyenas can steal them thus preventing leopards from climbing to the trees.
Leopards are renowned for their agility. They run up to 58km per hour and can leap horizontally and vertically in the dimensions of 6m and 3m respectively. They are also very strong swimmers.
Per gestation, leopards tend to have two or three cubs. Mothers stop wandering their territories after giving birth until their young are capable of coming with them. Cubs suckle for around three months and they are kept hidden to protect themselves from predators for about the first eight weeks.
Rosettes are the distinctive dark spots found on the leopards, which create beautiful patterns against their light fur. But in the case of the Black leopards as they have dark fur which makes it difficult to see the spots. They are often called black panthers, as they appear almost solid black.
Of all the big cat’s leopards have the widest range of habitats. Their adaptability feature has made them easier to survive in various geographic areas whereas the most extreme example is the amazing snow leopard that is found living in the Himalayan region.
They have special vocalizations which they perform to announce their presence to other leopards such as a rasping cough.
Leopards are considered nocturnal animals as they are active at night when they venture out in search of food. They mostly spend their daytime resting, camouflaged in the trees, or hiding in caves.
The leopard is a strong animal and it is comfortable being or resting in the trees. When they hunt prey they will take their prey to the trees to protect them from the scavengers such as hyenas. As they have spotted coats it allows them to hide in between the leaves of a tree thus it takes advantage and hurts from the trees as well. These are known as nocturnal animals and they also stalk predators such as deer, pig, and antelope by their movements in the tall grass. Leopards are strong swimmers as well, during summers they will live in the waters and hunt fishes and crabs. In case there are any human settlements they hunt the cattle, pets, and people as well.
Leopards and Humans
Leopards have featured in art and mythology. In Greek mythology, the leopard is used as a symbol of the god Dionysus, who was found wearing leopard skin, and leopards are used as means of transportation. In one myth, the god was captured by pirates during which the two leopards appear and help him to escape from that situation. The Ancient Romans kept leopards in order to help them during hunts as well as they have been used in executions of criminals.
In protected areas of several countries, in their natural habitat, they provide wildlife touring programs, and safari ventures offer sightings of leopards. While luxury establishments conclude the fact that on a daily basis the wild animals can be seen at close range, whereas the leopards are camouflaged in the trees, and to hide and stalk the prey they typically make leopard sightings rare.
About Leopard - Reproduction, and Life Cycle
Mating in the leopards varies depending on the region, as the leopards may mate overall year. The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in the heat for 6–7 days. The gestation period lasts for 90 to 105 days. The babies of leopards are called cubs. These cubs are born with closed eyes, which the cubs open their eyes from four to nine days after birth. The average typical lifespan of a leopard is between 12 and 17 years. Roxanne is a female leopard which is the oldest spotted leopard that was found in records.
Leopards are considered skilled climbers, and they like to rest at the branches of the tree during the daytime. Some of the species are beautiful as well, however, all the species of the leopards throughout the world are in danger. The cubs can live on their own when they turn two years and their mother bonding is strong.