The Leopard (Panthera pardus) has an extremely broad distribution across Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Leopards are found throughout Africa where there is sufficient cover and from the Arabian Peninsula through Asia to Manchuria and Korea. In the African rainforests and Sri Lanka, the Leopard is the only large predator. The black spot seen in the center of each rosette on a Jaguar's coat is typically lacking in Leopards. Melanistic Leopards ("black panthers"; melanistic Jaguars may also be referred to by this name) sometimes occur in several parts of Africa, but are more common in Thailand, Malaysia, and Java (Indonesia).
Leopards are found in an extraordinary range of habitats. In sub-Saharan Africa, they may be found in any habitats with annual rainfall greater than 50 mm, as well as along rivers penetrating true deserts. Leopards in the Kalahari Desert can reportedly go 10 days without drinking. In deserts with temperatures reaching 70 C, Leopards can survive by seeking shelter during the day in caves, animal burrows, and dense vegetation. In Central and West Africa, Leopards occur in rainforests receiving more than 1500 mm annual rainfall. Leopards are common throughout the Indian subcontinent in savannahs, acacia grasslands, deciduous and evergreen forests, and scrub woodlands. They may occur to 5200 m elevation in the mountains of Pakistan and Kashmir. In Southeast Asia, they occur in dense primary rainforest, among other habitats. In the Russian Far East, they may be found in forested mountainous regions where the snow is less than 15 cm deep. Leopards are capable of persisting in close proximity to humans.
The diet of the Leopard is highly varied, including both large and small prey. It often consists mainly of small and medium-sized mammals (5 to 45 kg), but may range from large beetles to ungulates (hoofed mammals) several times their size. Most hunting occurs at night. Sunquist and Sunquist (2009) review the diet of Leopards as reported from different portions of their range.
Like other felids (i.e., members of the cat family), Leopards commonly kill their prey with a bite to the throat, although smaller prey may be dispatched with a bite to the nape or back of the head. Large prey items may be dragged up into a tree and cached there, especially in Africa, where carcasses may otherwise be taken over by hyenas or lions. In Sri Lanka, where the Leopard is the only large carnivore, Leopards are reportedly often seen in open areas during the day.
In the wild, mating associations last just a day or two. The gestation period is around 96 days and young are born at 400 to 600 g. Litter size is typically one to three young (usually two, maximum six). Young travel with their mother starting at three to six months (when they weigh around three or four kg) and begin to eat meat. Permanent canines are emerged at around seven to eight months and the young are typically independent by 12 to 18 months (athough sometimes significantly later). Sexual maturity is reached at two to three years of age.
In some parts of their range, Leopards are endangered, whereas in other places they are considered pests.
(Estes 1991; Sunquist and Sunquist 2009)
- Estes, R.D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press, Berkeley.
- Sunquist, M.E. and F.C. Sunquist. 2009. Family Felidae (Cats). Pp. 54-168 in: Wilson, D.E. and R.A. Mittermeier (eds.). Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Vol. 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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