Species Facts: The Leopard

The world’s most famous spotted cat is a little better off than other big cats. Although its range has shrunk, the leopard still calls two continents home. (ISEC; Stein and others)`

Since leopards can adapt to almost any environment from sea level up to around 17,000 feet in the Himalayas, you will find them in most of sub-Saharan Africa and across much of southern/northeast Asia. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC; Panthera; Stein and others; Uphyyrkina)

While the overall species isn’t endangered, some leopard subspecies are. (ISEC)

But in India the high numbers of both leopards and people are causing serious problems. (Cat Specialist Group)

Read on for more facts about this interesting member of the big cat lineage.

Who’s this?

They may be smaller than lions, but leopards are large enough and pack enough muscle to bring down prey two to three times their size. (Cat Specialist Group)

Leopards are also built for climbing and do well in lion country wherever there are trees available for refuge. (Cat Specialist Group; Kitchener and others)

With a massive skull and powerful jaws, leopards resemble jaguars but are slimmer. Their tail is also longer, and the head is not quite as big. (Cat Specialist Group; ISEC)

What does it look like?

These cats have a lot more variety than we give them credit for.

Yes, all leopards have black spots on their head, legs, and tail, with black-rimmed rosettes elsewhere and whitish fur on their undersides. (ISEC)

But their size and background fur color vary according to habitat. African leopards are the biggest, weighing up to 200 pounds or more.

In the chilly Russian Far East, the leopard’s coat is so long and the background is such a pale color that some confuse this cat with the snow leopard – a totally different species. (Uphyrkina and others)

And in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, leopards are often black, though you can still see their spots in the right light. (ISEC; Kitchener and others)

Scientists are still debating how to classify leopard subspecies (Stein and others), but the best known common names for them include:

How friendly/dangerous is it?

This is one of the most dangerous cats in the world.

The Coolness Factor:

leopard-518210_640 (1)

Why is it on the IUCN Red List?

The Cat Specialist Group sums it up well:

The main threats to the leopard are of anthropogenic origin. Continuing persecution by humans, habitat loss and fragmentation, prey base declines, illegal wildlife trade, retaliatory killing and poorly managed trophy hunting are the main problems leading to leopard reductions.

Featured image: Persian leopard in snow. Felix Broennimann at Pixabay. Public domain.

Leopard in tree: designerpoint at Pixabay. Public domain.

Cat Specialist Group. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=110 Last accessed September 10, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC). Leopard. https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/africa/leopard/ Last accessed September 10, 2017.

Kitchener, A. C., Van Valkenburgh, B., and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. D. W. Macdonald and A. J. Loveridge, 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Panthera. Leopard fact sheet.
https://www.panthera.org/cat/leopard Last accessed September 10, 2017.

Stein, A. B.; Athreya, V.; Gemgross, P.; Balme, G.; and others. 2016. Panthera pardus. (errata version published in 2016) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:e.T15954A102421779.

Uphyrkina, O.; Johnson, W. E.; Quigley, H.; Miquelle, D.; Marker, L.; Bush, M., and O’Brien, S. 2001. Phylogenetics, genome diversity and origin of modern leopard Panthera pardus. Molecular Ecology. 10:2617-2633.


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