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Brooke Adams: Leopard
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Leopard: Panthera Pardus

What is going on with the earth? What about all the endangered species? Global Warming? Are humans killing animals that were here on earth way before us? In about 50 years scientists say that 25% of all species are going to be extinct, 50% in 100 years, due to global warming and climate change (Brown 2004, 1). Many animals are already endangered or at risk of endangerment.  Some people do not want to see these beautiful animals going extinct.  One beautiful animal in particular is the Leopard.  The leopard lives all over the southern hemisphere.  It pounces on its prey and is one of the fastest animals in the world, running at speeds up to 60 miles per hour!  Leopards are known for their speed and their black patterned rosette-like spots on their fur. This gives Leopards the ability to camouflage themselves in trees where they like to eat their prey. Leopards are closely related to Jaguars, Cheetahs, Snow Leopards, Tigers, Lions and even the ancient Saber-Tooth Tiger. 


Panthera pardus
is the scientific name for a Leopard.  Panthera refers to a large cat group that includes Leopards, Lions, Tigers, Snow Leopards, Jaguars, Cheetahs, and Saber-Toothed Tigers (Anonymous 2006, 1).  Leopards are classified as Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Sub-Phylum Vertebrata,  Class Mammalia, Order Carnivora, Family Felidae, Genus Panthera, and Species Panthera pardus (Hunt 2009, 1, Klappenbach 2004, 3).

Leopards evolved from small cats otherwise known by the genus Felias over 10 million years ago.  The Small Cat is somewhat similiar to the present day Lynx.  The Jaguar also shares this common ancestor, but when the Bering Land Bridge formed over 2 million years ago, the Jaguar crossed over the bridge into North America, while Leopards either traveled into Europe, or down to parts of Africa  (Shorter 2006, 1, 2). 

On Earth the Leopard is found on many different continents, countries, and habitats. Leopards are found mostly through-out Asia and Africa, but also in parts of Korea, China, India, and Malaysia and of course Zoos and Wild Animal Parks all over the world.  A Leopard's habitat ranges from forests, to mountains, grasslands,  and even deserts (Anonymous C 2012, 2).  The habitat that a Leopard prefers is forests, grassland savannas, and woodlands because Leopards like to climbs trees when they want to eat their prey (Hunt 2009, 2). 

The survival status for Leopards is that they are endangered and threatened depending on what continent or country they come from.  In Asia and parts of Africa, Leopards are endangered.  In a few parts of Africa including Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Zaire, and Gabon  (Anonymous 2012, 1, 10) they are endangered and threatened because they are hunted not only for their meat but for their luxurious fur. Also tribes use the fur for tribal clothing for their rituals. This makes humans the only real cause for Leopards to be endangered, which is angering scientists around the world.  Many organizations, for example the Panthera's Munyawana Leopard Project, are trying to put a stop to illegal hunting of Leopards (Anonymous B 2012, 3, 4).  This organization is effective, letting the lifespan of the Leopard grow. The typical lifespan for Leopards in the wild is anywhere from 10 to 12 years.  For a Leopard in captivity, their average lifespan is between 21 to 23 years, which is pretty normal for an animal of their size (Hunt 2009, 6).  

A Leopard has spots very similiar to a Cheetah, these spots are black and in a rosette pattern. The black rosette spots are circular shaped in East Africa, and square in South Africa. Also, the spots get bigger or smaller depending where they are on the leopard's body.  For example, the Leopard's chest has smaller looking dots while the tails has rings of spots. One can also tell the difference between a Leopard and a Cheetah by looking at their spots. A Cheetah's spots are more circular compared to the Leopard's spots. Also, the fur color depends on where the leopard lives, yellow and chestnut colors are for grasslands, deserts, and woodlands and black fur is for dense forests. The color of fur adapts to help the leopard camouflage into its habitat. This is a good adaptation for the leopard because it helps it to remain unseen by its prey so it can attack (Anonymous 2012, 2). For example in dense forests, a species of Leopards adapted its fur color to be black so it can blend in with the thick vegetation.  In lighter regions the lighter their fur color is, the easier it is to camouflage in the bright sunlight high in a tree.    

Leopards are medium sized mammals with four legs, broad shoulders and torso, a large head, and a long tail.  The male leopard ranges from 80 to 200 pounds, while females weigh slightly less then the males. Leopards are three to six feet long, not including their two foot long tail (Anonymous 2012, 2, 3).  Leopards have short legs compared to their body and have a powerful jaw, so that they can catch its prey, kill it, and take it up a tree.  The leopard also has pointy whiskers and tiny ears on its large head (Hunt 2009, 3). 

A behavioral adaptation for the Leopard is that it eats whatever it can find depending on its habitat (Bothma 1984, 1). Leopards have adapted to hunt at night and bring their prey into trees to avoid any contact with hyenas or other scavengers (Garman 1997, 2).  The only competition Leopards have for food is with Lions, Tigers, Hyenas, and other wild dogs in their habitat (Hunt 2009, 12). The Leopard's large leg and neck muscles allow the Leopard to have the ability to drag their prey up the tree.  This is one of their unique defensive structural adaptations (Garman 1997, 2). Leopards prefer to eat an animal that is about 25kg in size which is about the size of a regular sized bear (Balme, 2006 2). Leopards eat impala, gazelle, monkeys, deer, rodents and sometimes large beetles, depending on what they can find (Anonymous 2012, 7). Leopards prefer the larger animals because larger animals last a lot longer than smaller animals.  Leopards can catch and kill their prey with one bite to the throat (Estes 1991, 4). Another adaptation for the Leopard is that it can go up to 10 days without water if it is necessary, for example in an African or Asian desert (Estes 1991, 2).

A structural adaptation for the Leopard is that it can reach up to 60 mph running, but prefers to stalk its prey up close before pouncing (Hunt 2009, 11). This adaptation can also be helpful when mother Leopards chase away enemies trying to eat her cubs or when it is being chased by another animal.  Another structural adaptation for the Leopard is that it has long whisker-like eyebrows that protects its eyes from the sun and when moving through high grass, branches, trees, and bushes.  This is a good adaptation for the Leopard because it allows it to see and spot prey or predators instead of being poked in the eye (Hunt 2009, 3).  A Leopard's spots are also a structural adaptation because it allows Leopards to blend in well in the trees when it is stalking its prey.     
A few physiological adaptations for the Leopard are its ability to be nocturnal, have a very high metabolism, the ability to make a noise as a warning to other predators and has a unique respiratory and muscular system.  Leopards are nocturnal and hunt during the night to keep away from other scavengers and predators (Hunt 2009, 11). Some people believe that because Leopards are mainly nocturnal animals that they are shy.  This is not the case when it stalks and pounces on its prey. Also,  Leopards have a very high metabolism but low stamina.  Leopards can run at very high speeds and burn many calories.  Having this adaptation to run very fast away from predators, Leopards need a good respiratory system to keep them going. Also, to run fast Leopards need to have very strong leg and back muscles.  Leopards have very good hearing and sight, making it easier for them to become more precise when they hunt.  Also, Leopards make a sort of cough like hoarse sound to announce their territory or even grunt at other leopards. Sometimes while a mother Leopard is feeding, it purrs, like you would expect from a cat-like animal (Hunt 2009, 8).    

The reproduction season for Leopards is all year, but it most prominent during the May or the "Rainy Season."  Females attract males by excreting pheromones into her pee and also by walking up and rubbing her tail against the male. The female's average number of offspring is two in one litter (Hunt 2009, 3, 4, 5). When Leopard cubs are born, they have gray fur that does not have any pattern on it.  They develop their spots over a period of time. The mother raises the cubs for about three months, while the male looks for food. Leopards, being independent animals, carry on by themselves after being raised by their mother and learn how to survive on their own (Anonymous 2012, 8). Leopards usually breed every 15 to 24 months. 

Some current research being conducted by scientists on Leopards is their genetic diversity.  These scientists tested 77 Leopards all from 13 different sub-species. These subspecies then condensed into nine main sub-species. These genetic variations could be due to natural selection and the animal's choice of habitat, mate, and the small population (O'Brien 2001, 1).  Also, from the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, they have been conducting research about a sub-species of the Leopard called Panthera pardus orientalis. This sub species from all over Asia, has the lowest amount of diversity among Leopards (Driscoll 2002, 1, 2).  

A short legend on how the Leopard got its spots is it rolls in the mud. A legend by Megan Butler who lives in England wrote this story about a baby Leopard asking its mom how it gets its spots.  The mother replied saying, "You have to roll in so wet soggy mud!" The son did what the mother had him to do, and the next morning he woke up with his fur covered in spots (Butler 2006, 1, 2).  Another story on how a Leopard got its spots was by a famous author named Rudyard Kipling.  His story was about an Ethiopian helping a Leopard change its fur so it could camoflague like the other animals.   A giraffe told the leopard that it needed to go behind a bush in the sunlight so its fur can capture the shadow. This didn't work until the Ethiopian made black spots on the leopards fur with its fingers (Kipling 1902, 1, 2).

Leopards have always been my favorite animal growing up.  When I lived in San Diego, my family and I would go visit the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the San Diego Zoo and I would beg and beg my mom to take me to go see the Leopards.  I thought that Leopards were such amazing animals because they would be so calm while everyone was watching their every move. I also loved the glamorous rosette pattern of the fur, and I still do! When I was a lot younger my dad used to tell me a story about a man-eating Leopard.  The story happened to take place at a zoo.  The terrifying Man-Eating Leopard would wait until a little girl all alone walked by and then pounce on her.  The Leopard would then take the little girl back to his den and eat her.  No one ever saw the little girl again.  My dad only told me this story to scare me, and it worked when I was little, because he knew that Leopards were my favorite animal.     


Leopards over the years and studies, have become extraordinary animals. Leopards run at record speeds, have strong muscles to carry their prey two times the size of them up a tree, and the ability to adapt well to whatever environment it is in.  Also,  Leopards are able to survive on their own at a young age, are the top of the food chain, but these animals are still endangered.  Leopards reproduce a couple times a year, so you would think that they are not endangered?  They are still endangered because leopards are being hunted by greedy people that only want its roesette-patterned fur.  Scientists and governments now have laws restricting Leopards hunting.  Since then the population of Leopards have gone up to where the survival status of some leopards in a particular area have gone from endangered to threatened. 


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