Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The Leopard ( /ˈlɛpərd/), Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across Eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a "Near Threatened" species on the IUCN Red List. Compared to other members of the Felidae family, the leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It is similar in appearance to the jaguar, but is smaller and more slightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the jaguar, but the leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed, and do not usually have central spots as the jaguars do. Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic are known as black panthers. The species' success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic hunting behavior, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), its unequalled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains.
In antiquity, a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name, which is a Greek compound of λέων leōn (lion) and πάρδος pardos (male panther). The Greek word is related to Sanskrit पृदाकु pṛdāku (snake, tiger, panther), and probably derives from a Mediterranean language, such as Egyptian.
A panther can be any of several species of large felids: the term can refer to cougars and jaguars in the American continents but (given the European origins of the word) it is largely thought to define the leopard at its source. Black panther refers to leopards with melanistic genes, which are not uncommon in rainforest habitats.
The generic component of its modern scientific designation, Panthera pardus, derives from Latin via Greek πάνθηρ (pánthēr). Folk etymology saw the name as a compound of παν (pan, all) and θηρ (beast). However, it is believed instead to be derived from an Indo-Iranian word meaning "white-yellow, pale"; in Sanskrit, this word's reflex was पाण्डर pāṇḍara, which was derived from पुण्डरीक puṇḍárīka (tiger, among other things), then borrowed into Greek
Leopards are agile and stealthy predators. Although smaller
than other members of the Panthera genus, they are able to take large prey due
to their massive skulls that facilitate powerful jaw muscles. Head and body
length is usually between 90 and 165 cm (35 and 65 in). The tail reaches 60 to
110 cm (24 to 43 in) long, around the same length as the tiger's tail and
relatively the longest tail in the Panthera genus (though snow leopards and the
much smaller marbled cats are relatively longer tailed). Shoulder height is from
45 to 80 cm (18 to 31 in). The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally
strong, which enhance their ability to climb trees. They are very diverse in
size. Males are about 30% larger than females, weighing 30 to 91 kg (66 to 200
lb) compared to 23 to 60 kg (51 to 130 lb) for females. Large males of up to 91
kg (200 lb) have been documented in Kruger National Park in South Africa;
however, males in South Africa's coastal mountains average 31 kg (68 lb) and the
females from the desert-edge in Somalia average 23 to 27 kg (51 to 60 lb). This
wide variation in size is thought to result from the quality and availability of
prey found in each habitat. The most diminutive leopard subspecies overall is
the Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr), from deserts of the Middle East, with
adult females of this race weighing as little as 17 kg (37 lb). Other large
subspecies, in which males weigh up to 91 kg (200 lb), are the Sri Lankan
leopard (P. p. kotiya) and the Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana).
Such larger leopards tend to be found in areas which lack tigers and lions, thus
putting the leopard at the top of the food chain with no competitive restriction
from large prey items. The largest verified leopards weighed 96.5 kg (213 lb)
and can reach 190 cm (75 in) in head-and-body length. Larger sizes have been
reported but are generally considered unreliable.] The leopard's body is
comparatively long, and its legs are short. Leopards show a great diversity in
coat colour and rosette patterns. Their rosettes are circular in East Africa but
tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations. Their
yellow coat tends to be more pale and cream colored in desert populations, more
gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats.
Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter coloured and of a softer,
downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along
the face, limbs and underbelly. Leopards may sometimes be confused with two
other large spotted cats, the cheetah, with which it may co-exist in Africa, and
the jaguar, a neotropical species that it does not naturally co-exist with.
However, the patterns of spots in each are different: the cheetah has simple
black spots, evenly spread; the jaguar has small spots inside the polygonal
rosettes; while the leopard normally has rounder, smaller rosettes than those of
the jaguar. The cheetah has longer legs and a thinner build that makes it look
more streamlined and taller but less powerfully built than the leopard. The
jaguar is more similar in build to the leopard but is generally larger in size
and has a more muscular, bulky appearance.
Melanistic leopards are commonly called black panthers, a term that also applies to melanistic jaguars. Pseudomelanism (abundism) also occurs in leopards. Melanism in leopards is inherited as a Mendelian, monogenic recessive trait relative to the spotted form. Pairings of black animals inter se have a significantly smaller litter size than other possible pairings. The black colour is caused by recessive gene loci. The black panther is common in the equatorial rainforest of Malaya and the tropical rainforest on the slopes of some African mountains such as Mount Kenya. Between January 1996 and March 2009, Indochinese leopards were photographed at 16 sites in the Malay Peninsula in a sampling effort of more than 1000 trap nights. Of 445 photographs of melanistic leopards taken, 410 came from study sites south of the Isthmus of Kra, where the non-melanistic morph was never photographed. These data suggest the near fixation of the dark allele in the region. The expected time to fixation of this recessive allele due to genetic drift alone ranged from about 1,100 years to about 100,000 years. Melanism in leopards has been hypothesized to be causally associated with a selective advantage for ambush.
Distribution and habitat
Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring widely in eastern and central Africa, although populations have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Within sub-Saharan Africa, the species is still numerous and even thriving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared. But populations in North Africa may be extinct. Data on their distribution in Asia are not consistent. Populations in southwest and Central Asia are small and fragmented; in the northeast, they are critically endangered. In the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and China, leopards are still relatively abundant. Of the species as a whole, its numbers are greater than those of other Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns. Leopards live mainly in grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests. They are usually associated with savannah and rainforest, but leopards are exceptionally adaptable: in the Russian Far East, they inhabit temperate forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C (−13 °F). Leopards in west and central Asia avoid deserts, areas with long-duration snow cover and areas that are near urban development. The leopard occurs across most of sub-Saharan Africa, as remnant populations in North Africa, and then in the Arabian peninsula and Sinai/Judean Desert (Egypt/Israel/Jordan), south-western and eastern Turkey, and through Southwest Asia and the Caucasus into the Himalayan foothills, India, China and the Russian Far East, as well as on the islands of Java and Sri Lanka (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002; Hunter et al. in press).
In sub-Saharan Africa, leopards remain widely, albeit now patchily, distributed within historical limits (see Hunter et al. in press, and references therein). Ray et al. (2005) estimated that leopards have disappeared from at least 36.7% of their historical range in Africa. The most marked range loss has been in the Sahel belt, as well as in Nigeria and South Africa. They have been locally extirpated from areas densely populated with people or where habitat conversion is extreme (Hunter et al. in press). They are likely extinct on Zanzibar, where there have been no confirmed records since 1996 (Hunter et al. in press).
In North Africa, a tiny relict population persists in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco (Cuzin 2003), and there was a probable observation on the Morocco-Algerian border in Figuig in 2007 (F. Cuzin pers. comm.), while a population was recently found in the Ahaggar of south-eastern Algeria, a region from which they had not previously been recorded (Busby et al. 2006). Leopard are likely extinct in Egypt, although they may occur in the Eastern Desert (Hunter et al. in press).
A 2006 Arabian Fauna Conservation Workshop estimated there were fewer than 200 leopards remaining on the Arabian peninsula, in three confirmed separate subpopulations: the Negev desert, the Wada'a mountains of Yemen, and the Dhofar mountains of Oman. Presence in Saudi Arabia is uncertain (Breitenmoser 2006, Spalton and Al Hikmani 2006). I. Khorozyan (pers. comm. 2008) compiled detailed country information on the distribution of the Endangered Persian leopard as follows:
Russian North Caucasus: mountain ridges in the headwaters of the Avarskoe Koisu and Andiiskoe Koisu rivers (Republic of Dagestan). Possibly exists in the Chegem River canyon (Kabardino-Balkarian Republic); Erzi Reserve, Assa River valley (Republic of Ingushetia); Armkhi River basin (Republic of North Osetia-Alania), headwaters of the Sharoargun and Argun rivers (Chechen Republic) (Akkiev and Mokaev, 2006; Khorozyan and Abramov, 2007; Lukarevsky et al., 2007).
Georgia: Vashlovani Reserve in the south-east; Arkhoti River canyon in the upper part of the Assa River basin and the headwaters of the Andiiskoe Koisu River in the north-east (Lukarevsky et al., 2007). Some anecdotal records from south-western Georgia are either unreliable or can be attributed to individuals coming from north-eastern Turkey (Arabuli, 2006; Khorozyan and Abramov, 2007).
Armenia: South-Western and southern parts of the country from Khosrov Reserve to the Armenian-Iranian state border throughout the Geghama, Zangezur, Aiotsdzor, Bargushat and Meghri ridges. The range boundaries are the Azat River in the north-west; Vardenis Ridge in the north; semi-desert of the Ararat Valley in the west; state border with Azerbaijan and the alpine meadow/nival belt transition zone in the south-west and east; Arax River basin along the Armenian-Iranian border in the south. Until the early 1970s it lived also in north-eastern parts of Armenia (Khorozyan et al., 2005; Khorozyan and Abramov, 2007).
Azerbaijan: Talysh Mts. in the extreme south-east, Akhar-Bakhar Ridge of the Iori-Mingechaur Highland in the north-west and the Zangezur Ridge in the Nakhichevan Republic along the state border with Armenia in the west (Lukarevsky et al., 2007). Nagorno-Karabakh Republic: distribution in Shushi, Mardakert and Hadrut districts and in the adjoining Kelbajar district was recorded in 1941-1967 (Alekperov, 1966; Sludsky, 1973). Up-to-date information on leopard status is impossible to obtain for the political tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan over this republic, even though it plays a vital role as a corridor between the southern (Armenia, Azerbaijan?s Nakhichevan Republic), central (Iori-Mingechaur Highland in Azerbaijan and Vashlovani Reserve in Georgia) and northern (Russian North Caucasus) parts of the Caucasus (Khorozyan and Abramov, 2007).
Iran: virtually all country, except the vast deserts of Desht-e-Kevir and Desht-e-Lut in central and eastern parts. Particularly common in the Alborz Mts. along the southern fringe of the Caspian Sea. Quite common in protected areas (e.g., Tandooreh, Sarigol, Bafgh, Golestan, Kolah?ghazy, Touran, Kavir, Khojir, Khabr and Bamu national parks; Kiamaki and Naybandan wildlife refuges; Jahan Nama, Central Alborz, Varjin, Arasbaran, Dena and Bahram/gur protected areas) and some unprotected lands (Chapur-Ghoymeh, Safee Abad-Dozain or Minoo Dasht, Ramsar, Khaeez and Darestan-Rudbar) (Joslin and Shoemaker 1988; Kiabi et al., 2002; Farhadinia et al. 2007; Abdoli et al. 2008; M Farhadinia and A. Ghoddousi pers. comms., 2008).
Turkey: north-east (around the Artvin city), east (vicinities of Mt. Ararat or Agri) and south-east (Bitlis Ridge). Possibly exists in the mountains of the Black Sea coast and south-westwards to the Taurus Mts. (H. Diker pers. comm., 2008). It is unclear whether leopards still survive in western Turkey.
Turkmenistan: western Kopetdag Ridge, central Kopetdag Ridge, eastern Kopetdag Ridge, Badkhyz Reserve and Giaz-Gyadyk Ridge (Lukarevsky, 2001).
Afghanistan: (Hindu Kush, Kohe Baba, Kohe Paghman and Safed Koh ranges of the central highlands), north-eastern (Wakhan corridor) and northern (Darkad peninsula of Badakshan) parts of the country (Habibi, 2004).
In the Central Asian republics, leopard distribution is poorly known. Historically, leopards had a wider distribution in Turkmenistan, and were found in parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. An old male leopard was killed by a local hunter in January 2000 in Kazakhstan, the first record of the species in this country, in a location over 600 km from possible occurrences in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and over 1,200 km from known occurrences in Turkmenistan. It is aplso possible that the leopard travelled along the foothills of the Pamirs, then proceeded via the Ugam and Pskem ranges into the Talas river valley. Habitat appears to be suitable, but the existence of any leopard subpopulation in any of these three countries is uncertain (Shakula 2004).
In Pakistan, the leopard is thinly distributed in montane areas, and there have only been a handful of confirmed records in recent years (Ahmed 2001).
Leopards occur widely in the forests of the Indian sub-continent, through Southeast Asia and into China, although they are becoming increasingly rare outside protected areas. They are not found on the islands of Borneo or Sumatra (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
Afghanistan; Algeria; Angola (Angola); Armenia (Armenia); Azerbaijan; Bangladesh; Benin; Bhutan; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cambodia; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; China; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; India; Indonesia (Jawa); Iran, Islamic Republic of; Israel; Jordan; Kenya; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Liberia; Malawi; Malaysia; Mali; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Nepal; Niger; Nigeria; Oman; Pakistan; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Swaziland; Tajikistan; Tanzania, Thailand; Togo; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; United Arab Emirates; Uzbekistan; Viet Nam; Yemen; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Hong Kong; Kuwait; Libya; Singapore; Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia
The leopard is an adaptable, widespread species that
nonetheless has many threatened subpopulations. While still numerous and even
thriving in some marginal habitats from which other big cats have disappeared in
many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, in North Africa leopards are on the verge of
There are no reliable continent-wide estimates of population size in Africa, and the most commonly cited estimate of over 700,000 leopards in Africa (Martin and de Meulenaar 1988) is flawed. In India, based on pugmark censuses (a methodology which has been criticized as inaccurate), 9,844 leopards were estimated in 2001. Many populations are believed to be increasing (Singh 2005), and there are high levels of human-leopard conflict (Singh et al. 2008).
Several Asian subspecies are included on the Red List, with population information as follows:
Amur leopard P.p. orientalis CR C2a(ii),D: 14-20 (Anon. 2007)
Arabian leopard P.p. nimr CR C2a(I): Javan leopard P.p. melas CR C2a(i): 323-525, with Sri Lankan leopard P.p. kotiya EN C2a(i): 700-950 (Kittle and Watson 2007)
Persian leopard P.p. saxicolor EN C2a(i): 871-1290 (Khorozyan et al., 2005; Lukarevsky et al. 2007)
Distribution of subspecies
Since Carl Linnaeus published his description of leopards in the Systema Naturae in 1758, as many as 27 leopard subspecies were subsequently described by naturalists from 1794 to 1956. In 1996, according to DNA analysis carried out in the 1990s, only eight subspecies are considered valid. Later analysis revealed a ninth valid subspecies, the Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr). Because of limited sampling of African leopards, this number might be an underestimation.
The nine subspecies recognised by IUCN are:
African leopard (P. p. pardus) (Linnaeus, 1758) inhabits sub-Saharan Africa
Indian leopard (P. p. fusca) (Meyer, 1794) inhabits the Indian Subcontinent
Javan leopard (P. p. melas) (Cuvier, 1809) inhabits Java, Indonesia
Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr) (Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833) inhabits the Arabian Peninsula
Amur leopard (P. p. orientalis) (Schlegel, 1857) inhabits the Russian Far East, Korean Peninsula and Northeast China
North Chinese leopard (P. p. japonensis) (Gray, 1862) inhabits Northern China
Persian leopard (P. p. saxicolor) (Pocock, 1927), initially described as Caucasian leopard (P. p. ciscaucasica) (Satunin, 1914), inhabits the Caucasus, Turkmenistan and northern Iran
Indochinese leopard (P. p. delacouri) (Pocock, 1930) inhabits mainland Southeast Asia
Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) (Deraniyagala, 1956) inhabits Sri Lanka
A morphological analysis of characters of leopard skulls implies the validity of two more subspecies:
Anatolian leopard (P. p. tulliana) (Valenciennes, 1856) inhabits Western Turkey
Balochistan leopard (P. p. sindica) (Pocock, 1930) inhabits Pakistan, and possibly also parts of Afghanistan and Iran
Ecology and behavior
Leopards are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. They have primarily been studied in open savanna habitats, which may have biased common descriptions. Activity level varies depending on the habitat and the type of prey that they hunt. Radio-tracking and scat analysis in West Africa showed that rainforest leopards are more likely to be diurnal and crepuscular. Forest leopards are also more specialized in prey selection and exhibit seasonal differences in activity patterns.
Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although are not as disposed to swimming as some other big cats, such as the tiger. They are very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 metres (20 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) vertically. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and "sawing" sounds.
Social structure and home range
Home ranges of male leopards vary between 30 km2 (12 sq mi) and 78 km2 (30 sq mi), and of females between 15 to 16 km2 (5.8 to 6.2 sq mi). Virtually all sources suggest that males do have larger home ranges. There seems to be little or no overlap in territory among males, although overlap exists between the sexes; one radio-collar analysis in the Ivory Coast found a female home range completely enclosed within a male's. Research in a conservation area in Kenya showed similar territory sizes and sex differential: 32.8 km2 (12.7 sq mi) average ranges for males, and 14 km2 (5.4 sq mi) for females.
In Nepal, somewhat larger male ranges have been found at about 48 km2 (19 sq mi), while female ranges at 17 km2 (6.6 sq mi); female home ranges decreased to 5 to 7 km2 (1.9 to 2.7 sq mi) when young cubs were present, while the sexual difference in range size seemed to be in positive proportion to overall increase. Studies of leopard home range size have tended to focus on protected areas, which may have led to skewed data; as of the mid-1980s, only 13% of the leopard range actually fell within a protected area. However, significant variations in the size of home ranges have been suggested across the leopard's range. Research in Namibia that focused on spatial ecology in farmlands outside of protected areas revealed ranges that were consistently above 100 km2 (39 sq mi) with some more than 300 km2 (120 sq mi). Admitting that their data were at odds with others, the researchers found little or no sexual variation in the size of territories. Aggressive encounters have been observed. Two of five males studied over a period of a year at a game reserve in South Africa died, both violently. One was initially wounded in a male–male territorial battle over a carcass; taken in by researchers, it was released after a successful convalescence only to be killed by a different male a few months later. A second was killed by another predator, possibly a spotted hyena. A third of the five was badly wounded in intraspecific fighting, but recovered. Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera species, and will eat anything from dung beetles to 900 kg (2,000 lb) male giant elands, though prey usually weighs considerably less than 200 kg (440 lb) .[Their diet consists mostly of ungulates, followed by primates, primarily monkeys of various species. However, they will also opportunistically eat rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds (especially ground-based types like the Vulturine Guinea fowl), fish and sometimes smaller predators (such as foxes, jackals, martens and smaller felid species). In at least one instance, a leopard has predated a sub-adult Nile crocodile that was crossing over land. Leopards are the only natural predators of adult chimpanzees and gorillas, although the cat may sometimes choose to avoid these as they are potentially hazardous prey, especially large male silverback gorillas. They stalk their prey silently, pounce on it at the last minute, and strangle its throat with a quick bite. In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of their prey, especially impala and Thomson's gazelles.
In the open savanna of Tsavo National Park, they kill most of their prey while hunting between sunset and sunrise. In Kruger National Park, males and females with cubs are more active at night. At least 92 prey species have been documented in their diet. They focus their hunting activity on locally abundant medium-sized ungulate species in the 20 to 80 kg (44 to 180 lb) range, while opportunistically taking other prey. Analysis of leopard scats found that 67% contained ungulate remains, of which 60% were impala, the most abundant antelope, with adult weights of 40 to 60 kg (88 to 130 lb). Small mammal remains were found most often in scats of sub-adult leopards, especially females. Average daily consumption rates was estimated at 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) for adult males and 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for females. In Asia, the leopard primarily preys on deer such as chitals and muntjacs, as well as various Asian antelopes and ibex. Prey preference estimates in southern India showed that the most favoured prey of the leopard were chitals. A study at the Wolong Reserve in China revealed how adaptable their hunting behaviour is. Over the course of seven years, the vegetative cover receded, and the animals opportunistically shifted from primarily consuming tufted deer to pursuing bamboo rats and other smaller prey. They select their prey focusing on small herds, dense habitat, and low risk of injury, preferring prey weights of 10 to 40 kg (22 to 88 lb) such as impala, chital, bushbuck and common duiker with an average body weight of 25 kg (55 lb).
In search of safety, leopards often stash their young or recent kills high up in a tree, which can be a great feat of strength considering that they may be carrying prey heavier than themselves in their the mouth while they climb vertically. One leopard was seen to haul a young giraffe, estimated to weigh up to 125 kg (280 lb), more than twice the weight of the cat, up 5.7 m (19 ft) into a tree. Leopards must compete for food and shelter with other large predators such as lions, tigers, spotted hyenas, striped hyena, up to 5 species of bear and both African and Asiatic wild dogs. These animals may steal the leopard's kill, devour its young or even kill adult leopards, although lions are most likely to kill and not eat young leopards if they are discovered. Conflictions over carcasses often end without bloodshed, because the leopard will often begrudgingly cede their kills if they encounter a larger-bodied or group-living predator that can potentially kill them. In some areas of Africa, troops of large baboon species (potential leopard prey themselves) will kill and sometimes eat leopard young if they discover them. Occasionally, Nile crocodiles may predate on leopards of any age. Leopards co-exist alongside these other predators by hunting for different types of prey and by avoiding areas frequented by them. Lions are occasionally successful in climbing trees and fetching leopard kills. In the Kalahari desert, leopards frequently lose kills to the brown hyena, if the leopard is unable to move the kill into a tree. Single brown hyenas have been observed charging at and displacing male leopards from kills. Burmese Pythons have been known to prey on leopards, with an adult cat having been recovered from the stomach of an 18-foot specimen. Resource partitioning occurs where leopards share their range with lions or tigers. Leopards tend to take smaller prey, usually less than 75 kg (170 lb), where the larger cats are present. In the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, leopards killed prey ranging from less than 25 kg (55 lb) to 100 kg (220 lb) in weight with most kills in the 25–50 kg (55–110 lb) range; tigers killed more prey in the 50–100 kg (110–220 lb) range. In the tropical forests of India’s Nagarhole National Park, tigers selected prey weighing more than 176 kg (390 lb), whereas leopards selected prey in the 30–175 kg (66–390 lb) range. The average weights of leopard prey was 37.6 kg (83 lb), and of tiger prey was 91.5 kg (202 lb) with a bias towards adult males of chital, Sambar and wild pig, and young gaur. In tropical forest they do not always avoid the larger cats by hunting at different times. With relatively abundant prey, tigers and leopards seem to successfully coexist without competitive exclusion or inter-species dominance hierarchies that may be more common to the leopard's co-existence with the lion in savanna habitats. In areas with high tiger populations, such as in the central parts of India’s Kanha National Park, leopards are not permanent residents, but transients. They were common near villages at the periphery of the park and outside the park. Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round. In Manchuria and Siberia, they mate during January and February. The oestrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4 cubs. But mortality of cubs is estimated at 41–50% during the first year. Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in colour with less defined spots. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18–24 months. Leopards have been reported to reach 21 years of age in captivity. The leopard has the widest habitat tolerance of any Old World felid, ranging from rainforest to desert. In Africa, they are most successful in woodland, grassland savanna and forest but also occur widely in mountain habitats, coastal scrub, swampy areas, scrubland, semi-desert and desert. They range from sea level to as much as 4,600 m on Mt Kenya (Hunter et al. in press). In Southwest and Central Asia, leopards formerly occupied a range of habitats, but now are confined chiefly to the more remote montane and rugged foothill areas. Through India and Southeast Asia, Leopard are found in all forest types, from tropical rainforest to the temperate deciduous and alpine coniferous (up to 5,200 m in the Himalaya), and also occur in dry scrub and grasslands (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Leopards have extremely catholic diets including more than 90 species in sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from arthropods to large antelope up to the size of adult male Eland Tragelaphus oryx (Hunter et al. in press). Densities vary with habitat, prey availability, and degree of threat, from fewer than one per 100 km² to over 30 per 100 km², with highest densities obtained in protected East and southern African mesic woodland savannas (Hunter et al. in press). A study in Thailand found a home range of 8.8 km² for a radio-collared female, and 17.3-18 km² for two adult males (Grassman 1998). Important prey species were hog badger Arctonyx collaris (45.9%), Muntjac Muntiacus muntjak (20.9%) and wild pig Sus scrofa (6.3%).
Although the leopard is an amazingly adaptable species that has an extensive range, the future of this big cat is far from certain, and several subspecies are on the verge of extinction . The major threats to the leopard are habitat conversion for agriculture and development, and persecution by humans . Across Asia, this species is also threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation due to logging. The leopard is subjected to intense persecution in many parts of its range, largely in response to loss of livestock. Poisoning of carcasses by livestock owners to target large carnivores is a rapidly increasing threat to this species. Elimination of the leopard’s natural prey is creating more conflict with humans, putting this big cat at even greater risk. The leopard is one of the ‘Big Five’, meaning that along with the lion (Panthera leo), the African elephant (Loxodonata africana), the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and the rhinoceros, it is one of the most highly prized targets of sport hunters. Trophy-hunting therefore poses a severe threat to some leopard populations. Furthermore, trade in leopard skins and teeth for use in traditional rituals and ceremonial dress is common in some Central and West African countries, and illegal trade in Europe and Asia also poses a major problem.
The leopard is included on Appendix I of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that a quota system limits the legal exports of skins and hunting trophies. The leopard is also protected under national legislation across much of its range (1). In Afghanistan, the leopard has been placed on the country’s Protected Species List, which prohibits all hunting and trading of this species within Afghanistan. The leopard occurs in numerous protected areas across Africa and Asia, and growing wildlife tourism throughout this species’ range may make a significant contribution to its survival. However, despite this, many populations occur outside of protected areas, and therefore improved mitigation methods to resolve conflicts between leopards and landowners are desperately required. In West Asia, the leopard is almost entirely restricted to protected areas. However, while these areas may receive protection, most of them are too small to support large enough populations of this species to ensure its survival in the region, and therefore need to be expanded and connected to other areas using buffer zones and wildlife ‘corridors’. Several conservation organisations are closely involved in the conservation of the leopard. Over the past few years, scientists at Panthera have led the Munyawana Leopard Project, which is the longest and most comprehensive leopard study to date. The findings from this project have resulted in an effective conservation plan for this beautiful and charismatic wild cat.