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Hunt, Ashley. 2009.

Created By: Brooke Adams
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By Ashley Hunt

[1] Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: Panthera pardus

Geographic Range

There are nine subspecies of Panthera pardus, which are distributed as follows: Panthera pardus pardus is in Africa; Panthera pardus nimr, Arabia; Panthera pardus saxicolor, Central Asia; Panthera pardus melas, Java; Panthera pardus kotiya, Sri Lanka; Panthera pardus fusca, the Indian sub-continent; Panthera pardus delacourii, southeast Asia into southern China; Panthera pardus japonensis, northern China; and Panthera pardus orientalis, far east Russia, on the Korean peninsula and in north-eastern China. (Breitenmoser, et al., 2008)

Biogeographic Regions
palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native )


Range elevation
5638 m (high) m
( ft)

Leopards inhabit a variety of terrain. [2] They are most populous in mesic woodlands, grassland savannas, and forests. They also occupy mountainous, scrub, and desert habitats. They favor trees throughout their entire geographic distribution, and have been recorded at 5638 meters on Mt. Kilimanjaro. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009)

Habitat Regions
tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes
desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Physical Description

Range mass
17 to 65 kg
(37.44 to 143.17 lb)

Range length
1.6 to 2.3 m
(5.25 to 7.55 ft)

Body size and color patterns of leopards varies geographically and probably reflects adaptations to particular habitats. Leopards have [3short legs relative to their long body. They have a broad head, and their massive skull allows for powerful jaw muscles. The leopard's scapula has specialized attachment sites for climbing muscles. They have small round ears, long whiskers extending from dark spots on the upper lip, and long whiskers in their eyebrows that protect their eyes while moving through dense vegetation. Their coat ranges from tawny or light yellow in warm, dry habitats to reddish-orange in dense forests. Subspecies are distinguished according to unique pelage characteristics. Their body is covered with black rosettes, which are circular in East Africa and square in South Africa. They have solid black spots on their chest, feet, and face and rings on their tail. Cubs have a smoky gray coat and their rosettes are not yet distinct. Each individual has a unique coat, which can be used for identification. Black panthers, which are most populous in humid forests, are leopards with recessive melanistic genes. Savannah and woodland leopards tend to be relatively large while mountain and desert leopards tend to be relatively small. Leopards are sexually dimorphic as males tend to be larger than females. Females range in body mass from 17 to 58 kg and in length from 1.7 to 1.9 m. Males range in mass from 31 to 65 kg and in length from 1.6 to 2.3 m. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; "Thinkquest: Library", 1997; Hunter and Hinde, 2005; Nowell and Jackson, 1996)

Other Physical Features
endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism
male larger


[4] Leopards are promiscuous, as both males and females have multiple mates. Females attract potential mates by excreting pheromones in their urine. Females initiate mating by walking back and forth in front of a male and brushing up against him or swatting him with her tail. The male then mounts the female while frequently biting her nape. Copulation last an average of three seconds with six minute intervals between each copulation bout. A single breeding pair may copulate up to 100 times per day for several days, during which time they share food resources. (Laman and Knott, 1997)

Mating System
polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Breeding interval
Leopards breed every 15 to 24 months

Breeding season
Leopards breed year-round, with a peak during the rainy season

Range number of offspring
2 to 3

Average number of offspring

[External Source: AnAge]

Average gestation period
96 days

Average gestation period
97 days
[External Source: AnAge]

Average birth mass
500 g
(17.62 oz)

Average birth mass
550 g
(19.38 oz)
[External Source: AnAge]

Average weaning age
3 months

Range time to independence
13 to 18 months

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
2.5 years

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female
937 days
[External Source: AnAge]

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
2 years

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male
771 days
[External Source: AnAge]

[5] The reproductive season is year-round but peaks during the rainy season in May. In China and southern Siberia, leopards mainly breed in January and February. Females are in estrus for 7 days and have a 46 day long cycle. Gestation last 96 days and females usually give birth once every 15 to 24 months. Typically, females stop reproducing around 8.5 years old. (Friedman and Case, 2002; Macaskill, 2009)

Key Reproductive Features
iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Leopard cubs weigh less than 1 kg at birth, and their eyes remain closed for the first week. Mothers leave their cubs in the protection of dense bush, rock clefts, or hollow tree trunks for up to 36 hours while hunting and feeding. They move den sites frequently, which helps prevent cubs from falling prey to lions and other predators. Cubs learn to walk at 2 weeks of age and regularly leave the den at 6 to 8 weeks old, around which time they begin to eat solid food. Mothers share less than a third of their food with their cubs. Cubs are completely weaned by 3 months old and independent at just under 20 months old. Often, siblings maintain contact during the early years of independence. Territories are flexible and young may linger in their natal area. (Hunter and Hinde, 2005; Macaskill, 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)

Parental Investment
altricial ; female parental care ; pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning


Range lifespan
Status: wild
17 (high) years

Range lifespan
Status: captivity
27 (high) years

[6] Typical lifespan
Status: wild
10 to 12 years

Typical lifespan
Status: captivity
21 to 23 years

In captivity, leopards can live to be 21 to 23 years old, with the oldest known individual being 27 years old. Wild leopards may live to be 10 to 12 years old, with the oldest known individual being 17 years old. Survival rates for cubs range from 41% to 50%. (Guggisberg, 1975; Hunter and Hinde, 2005)


Range territory size
13 to 35 km^2
[11] Leopards are solitary, nocturnal carnivores. Although they sometimes hunt during overcast days, they are less diurnal in areas close to humans in comparison to uninhabited areas. They mark their territory with urine, feces, and claw marks and communicate with conspecifics by growling, roaring, and spitting when aggravated and purring when content. They also make a rasping cough to advertise their presence to conspecifics. Leopards are most comfortable in the lower forest canopy, where they often feed, and descend from the canopy head-first. They are comfortable in water and are adequate swimmers. When hunting, leopards move with a slow, crouching walk. They can run at bursts of up to 60 km/hour, jump more than 6 m horizontally and 3 m vertically. Leopards are facultative drinkers and obtain much of their water requirements from ingested prey. Leopard's have advanced vision and hearing, which makes them especially adept at hunting in dense forests. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Friedman and Case, 2002; Macaskill, 2009)

Key Behaviors
[7] arboreal ; cursorial; terricolous; nocturnal ; solitary ; territorial

Home Range

Male leopards have a core range of about 12 km^2, with a home range of about 35 km^2. Female's have a core range of about 4 km^2 with a home range of about 13 km^2. Similar to other mammalian species, the home ranges of male's are larger and tend to overlap with those of multiple females. In Namibia, the home ranges of males overlapped 46% of the time and those of females overlapped about 35% of the time. Home ranges tend to be larger in arid conditions. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)

Communication and Perception

Although leopards are silent most of the time, [8] they may give a hoarse, rasping cough at repeated intervals to advertise their presence to conspecifics. Males use this unique call to announce territorial boundaries. If another leopard is in the vicinity, it may answer with a similar vocalization and continue vocalizing as it exits the area. Males also grunt at each other and females call to potential mates when in estrous. Some leopards may purr while feeding. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Guggisberg, 1975; Nowell and Jackson, 1996)

Communication Channels
tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes
pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels
visual ; acoustic

Food Habits

[9] Leopards are ambush predators, pouncing on their prey before it chance to react. They approach potential prey by crouching low to the ground, getting as close as 3 to 10 m to prey before pouncing. Leopards are not likely to chase prey after the first pounce. Once a prey item is captured, they immediately break the prey's neck, causing paralysis. After breaking the prey's neck, leopards asphyxiate them and carry the carcass to a secluded feeding location, typically in a nearby tree. They may also cover prey carcasses in leaves and soil. Their tremendous strength allows them to tackle prey up to 10 times their own weight. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Friedman and Case, 2002; Hayward, et al., 2006; Macaskill, 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)

Leopards generally prey upon mid-sized ungulates, which includes small antelopes (Bovidae), gazelles (Gazella), deer (Cervidae), pigs (Sus), primates (Primates) and domestic livestock. They are opportunistic carnivores and eat birds (Aves), reptiles (Reptilia), rodents (Rodentia), arthropods (Arthropoda), and carrion when available. Leopards prefer prey that weigh between 10 and 40 kg. They are also known to scavenge from cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), solitary hyenas (Hyaenidae), and smaller carnivores as well. They are known to cache food and may continue hunting despite having multiple carcasses already cached. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Friedman and Case, 2002; Hayward, et al., 2006; Macaskill, 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)

Primary Diet
carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

Animal Foods
birds; mammals; reptiles; fish; carrion ; insects

Foraging Behavior
stores or caches food


Known Predators
tiger (Panthera tigris)
lion (Panthera leo)
spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)

[11] Humans are the primary predator of leopards. Leopards are hunted as trophy animals for their fur, and retaliatory killings by farmers protecting their livestock are not uncommon. Lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) prey upon leopard cubs and are capable of killing adult leopards. Typically, when an adult is killed it is due to a territorial confrontation. Many of the characteristics that make leopards great predators also serve as excellent predator defense mechanisms. For example, a leopard's spots allows them to travel inconspicuously and avoid detection. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Breitenmoser, et al., 2008)

Anti-predator Adaptations

Ecosystem Roles

[12] Leopards compete for food with lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus). To avoid attacks from potential predators, leopards tend to hunt at different times of the day and avoid areas where potential predators are most populous. When competition for larger prey items is high, leopards prey on smaller animals, which reduces interspecific competition. Leopards are host to many common felid parasites, including lung flukes (Paragominus westermani), flat worms (Pseudophyllidea), spirurian nematodes (Spiruroidea), hookworms (Ancylostomatidae), lung worms (Aelurostrongylus), intestinal and hepatic parasites (Capillaria), and parasitic protozoa (Sarcocystis). (Friedman and Case, 2002; Macaskill, 2009; Patton and Rabinowitz, 1994)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
lung fluke (Paragominus westermani)
flat worms (Pseudophyllidea)
spirurian nematodes (Spiruroidea)
hookworms (Ancylostomatidae)
lung worms (Aelurostrongylus)
intestinal and hepatic parasites (Capillaria)
parasitic protozoa (Sarcocystis)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Leopards can be seen in National Parks throughout Asia and Africa. They help control baboon populations and disperse seeds that stick to their fur. Chiefs and warriors from tribal cultures throughout the leopard's geographic range wear their fur as a symbol of honor and courage. Tribal medicine men and women suggest leopard skins as a remedy for bad omens. Leopards are often captured for pet trade and are targeted by trophy hunters as well. (Arhin, 2003)

Positive Impacts
pet trade ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

When natural prey abundances are low, leopards have been known to kill livestock. Injured or sickly leopards have been known to hunt humans as easy prey. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; "Thinkquest: Library", 1997; Arhin, 2003)

Negative Impacts
injures humans (bites or stings)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [Link]
Near Threatened
More Information

US Federal List [Link]

CITES [Link]
Appendix I

[10] Leopards are declining in parts of their geographic range due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and hunting for trade and pest control. As a result, leopards are listed as "near threatened" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Leopards appear to show some resistance to minor habitat disturbances and are relatively tolerant of humans. Currently, leopards are protected throughout most of their range in west Asia; however, populations in this part of their range are too small to maintain stable growth. Although habitat reserves and national parks exist throughout their geographic range in Africa, a majority of leopards live outside these protected areas. Although leopards are the most populous of the "great cats", 5 of 9 subspecies are listed as endangered or critically endangered.
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