“Get to Know the Leopard: An Animal Fact Sheet”

Leopard (Pathera pardus): One of five large cat species in the genus Panthera

The name of the animal comes from the Greek word leopardus, which is a combination of the words leon (lion) and pardus (panther)

Leopards have nine subspecies that can be distinguished by their coat characteristics

Despite their names, the cloud (neofelis nebulosa) and snow leopard (panthera uncial) are often considered separate species

Leopards are the smallest of the big cats, which include lions, tigers and jaguars

Female leopards weigh between 46 and 132 pounds and males between 80 and 165 pounds

Depending on the subspecies, the leopard’s coat can vary from tawny or light yellow in warm, dry habitats to a darker red-orange in dense forests

Leopards with almost black fur can be found in the thick and dark rainforests of Southeast Asia

Although these leopards may appear completely black at first glance, their spotted pattern is visible in certain lights

These melanistic (black) leopards are much less numerous than the lighter fur ones

Their fur is covered in dark, irregular patches called rosettes, which can also be found on other big cats, such as jaguars

These spots are circular in East African leopards and square in South African leopards

Leopards are carnivores

They are nocturnal and hunt mostly at night

Their large eyes and dilated pupils allow them to see well in the dark

Leopards are incredibly athletic and known for their climbing ability

They often carry food to trees to avoid losing it to scavengers like lions and hyenas

They are also fast and can run up to 36 miles per hour

In comparison, the cheetah, the fastest land mammal, runs between 50 and 80 miles per hour

Leopards can leap 20 feet forward with a single chain and leap ten feet straight up

They jump and jump to catch prey, especially birds

Unlike most cats, leopards are strong swimmers

They are one of the few cats that like water

Leopards can go without water for long periods of time, living off the moisture of their prey

Leopard habitats include forests, subtropical and tropical regions, savannas, grasslands, deserts, and rocky and mountainous regions

They can live in both warm and cold climates

Of all the big cat species, leopards are the only species known to live in both desert and rainforest

The leopard’s range is the most widespread of the big cats

Their range includes much of Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, including China, India and eastern Russia

During the breeding season, adult males and females use scents to find each other

The male may watch the female for several days before he is ready to breed

If she is not ready to mate during the male’s attempt, the female may attack her pursuer

Gestation lasts about 3 months and the female gives birth to 2-3 cubs on average

The cubs are born vulnerable, with closed eyes and little hair

The mother stays with her cubs for the first few days before going hunting

She continues to move her cubs from one den to another while hunting until they are big enough to go out with her

At about three months, cubs go on adventures with their mother to learn hunting and survival skills

Between 12 and 18 months of age, young leopards are usually ready to go out on their own

Leopards are usually solitary animals and rarely interact with each other except to mate or raise cubs

Leopards are territorial and male leopards fight when their territories overlap

Leopards live 12-15 years in the wild

They live up to 23 years in zoos

The biggest threat to leopards is human activity

Urban expansion leads to habitat loss and food sources

Leopards are also hunted by poachers for their valuable fur and whiskers

Because leopards prey on livestock, herders often poison the big cats to protect their animals

Despite their size and strength, leopards are not always at the top of the food chain

In Africa, lions and hyena herds or painted dogs can kill leopards

In Asia, the tiger can do the same

Leopard cubs are particularly vulnerable to these predators, as well as to other adult leopards

To avoid these predators, leopards hunt at different times and often pursue different prey than their competitors

All leopard subspecies are either threatened or endangered

Many leopard populations are threatened, especially those outside of Africa

One of the rarest leopard subspecies is the Eastern Russian Amur leopard

Currently, it is estimated that only 30 people live in the wild

Numerous conservation groups, local parks, and conservation laws such as the US Endangered Species Act and the International Trade Commission are working to protect leopards

To protect these endangered leopard species, scientists and researchers are working to track and study these big cats

In 2002, trail cameras were added so conservationists could identify individual leopards by their unique spot patterns and track them over many years

The year-round images reveal the secret lives of these cats that walk on the ground, chase and roll playfully

Source: San Diego Zoo and previous NATURE fact sheet

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