Felidae Felinae Panthera Pardus
There are altogether 27 species of Panthera documented across the globe and this does not even include the "primitive" species of leopard from prehistoric times. Taxonomic research is ongoing to determine the exact number of species as it is believed by some scientists that there are really only 8 subspecies of Panthera instead.
The leopard is mentioned throughout the history of the world with attributes of power, fearlessness and intelligence. In ancient Egypt, the goddess Osiris represented the leopard, thought to have been a cross between a lion (Leo) and a black panther with no spots (pard). King Nimrod of Babylon was so named because he used a tame leopard as his aid as he went out on the hunt (Nimrod = Leopard tamer). Nimrod went as far as to dress himself in leopard skins and obtained the name " the subduer of the spotted one" and later "the spotted one himself". In China the leopard stands for all that is warlike and fearless, the characteristics attributed to the spotted one.
Based on the fact that the leopard has been and is a prominent part in many different cultures, it comes as no surprise that the leopard is the most widespread species of the family Felidae. They are spread out over most of Central and South Africa, as well as greater parts of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Far East and the island of Java.
The leopard belongs to the roaring cat family which also includes lion, tigers, jaguars, clouded leopards, snow leopards and marbled cats. They are successful hunters and easily adapt to new environments and circumstances which is why they have managed their survival across several continents very well. Nevertheless, the U.S. Endangered Species act has listed leopards on the African continent as "Threatened" (South Africa) and "Endangered" (the rest of Africa and Middle East & Asia). CITES is the agency that classifies species internationally and has listed the leopard as "vulnerable". Since there are however 27 species of leopard, it must be said that some of the species are close to extinction (for example: Persian Leopard).
The habitat of the leopard varies with their location. In general, they are not found in desert areas unless there are some seasons with heavier rainfall but they are mostly found in thick forest areas, plains, mountains, and savannah and are known to adapt well and venture into human-populated areas. They have been found up to 5,700 meters in mountainous areas and have been found in the Himalayans up to 17,000 ft. co-existing with the snow leopard.
The weight of a leopard varies widely but generally ranges between 150 lbs and 200 lbs for males, between 80 lbs and 150 lbs for females. The color of their coat varies with their habitat: Paler colors are found in the drier and savannah type regions and deeper colors in the wetter and more forested areas. The color ranges from a pale yellow-ochre color to a deep golden color with a spotted pattern that is different, like a fingerprint, for each individual animal. The rosettes, as the spots are referred to, are more round in Eastern African leopards and more square in Southern African leopards. The leopard is not be confused with the jaguar, for which the rosettes have an additional spot in the center of them. The jaguar is only found in South America. Unlike the jaguar, the spots on a leopard are either closed or open and no additional spot can be found inside the open rosette.
Black or melanistic leopards are common and often erroneously referred to as "black panthers". The truth is however that they are not a panther and that all black panthers are actually black leopards. If you look at a black leopard in the sunlight, you will find that the coat color is actually a very dark brown and that the spots are very visible throughout the animal. A panther is really a cougar species and, unlike popular belief, melanistic cougars do not exist in the wild. Melanistic jaguars exist also but again, they are only found in South America.
The reason why black leopards are common mostly in Asia, is that, this coat color provides good camouflage at night or in deeply forested areas in particular. In drier, more desert-like areas, the golden color is more prominent and gives better camouflage.
Like most cats, the leopard is a solitary and nocturnal predator, that distinguishes himself by an unmatched intelligence displayed in their hunting behavior. Nocturnal animals tend to have proportionally bigger eyes than diurnal animals and humans do. They also tend to have pupils that open more widely in low light, this basically means that their eyes gather more light than other animals. Their vision allows them to stalk their prey in the middle of the night and then leap on top of them, killing by a single but fatal bite to the neck with their powerful jaws. The strength of the jaws and teeth, enable the leopard to kill and carry a prey twice their weight for miles and up a tree where the meal is devoured without any threat from other predators on the ground, which is why they are so successful in their fight for survival.
Males and females only come together to mate and try to avoid each other as much as possible outside of mating season. The males generally have a larger territory than the females do and they move around it constantly, never staying in one place for more than 2/3 days. They tend to cover a lot of ground as they mark their territory both by urinating and rubbing their scent on brush and trees. They are nomads.
When the females give birth, it is usually to two or three cubs at a time. The female will hide the cubs in a den for about 8 weeks until they are able to venture out with her. She will not travel until the cubs are big enough to follow her. The cubs are a smoky gray color when they are born and have no clear spot definition for about 3 months. She will suckle the cubs for about three months even though she will bring them meat as early as when they are 6 weeks old.
Their diet exists mostly of small to medium-sized animals like antelopes, gazelles, wild goats, sheep, deer, pigs and domestic livestock. In addition, they are able to adjust their prey preference depending on availability and manage well on a diet of birds, reptiles, hyraxes, baboons, monkeys and domestic dogs. As you can tell, some of those preferences include prey that are found in human-populated areas which means danger for the leopard.
In many human-populated areas, the leopard is feared as a "man-eater". Though it may be true that the leopard is capable of killing a human, they usually target the domestic live-stock instead. Efforts are underway to trap and relocate the animals that venture into villages and townships but many times they are victims themselves by being shot or poisoned by poachers and humans protecting their livestock.
The leopard is being threatened by habitat destruction and humans moving into their territory. Their beautiful coat is a commodity fiercely sought after by poachers and, as with all endangered species, the leopard is fighting for it's survival in the wild.
Thanks to Brigitte Ivory for the information contained on this page
copyright © 2001 Wildlife Survival Sanctuary Inc