Leopards (Panthera pardus) are one of the four 'big cats' of the genus Panthera. (The others are the Lion, Tiger, and Jaguar). They range in size from 1 to almost 2 metres long, and weigh between 30 and 70 kilos. Females are typically around two-thirds the size of males.
Most Leopards are orange or fawn with black spots, but their coats are very variable. The spots tend to be smaller on the head, larger and have pale centres on the body.
Originally, it was thought that a Leopard was a hybrid between a Lion and a Panther, and the Leopard's common name derives from this belief: leo is the Latin for lion, and pard is an old term meaning panther. In fact, a "panther" can be any of several species of large felid which happen to have genes for more black pigment than orange-tan pigment, thus producing a pure black coat as opposed to the usual spotted one. "Panthers", in other words, are simply dark-furred Leopards (or a dark form of several other big cats: see black panther).
Prior to the human-induced changes of tha last few hundred years, Leopards were the most widely distributed of all felids: they were found through most of Africa (with the exception of the Sahara Desert), as well as parts of Asia Minor and the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, Siberia, much of mainland South-east Asia, and the islands of Java, Zanzibar, and Sri Lanka.
Their lifestyle and diet are as varied as that of any big cat. They are able to hunt in trees as well as on the ground, and they feed on insects, rodents, fish, and larger game such as antelope. They are excellent tree climbers, and often protect their larger kills by carrying them up a tree.
A north Chinese leopard, image courtesy of EFBC/FCC..
A Leopard can be distinguished from the closely related Jaguar by its rings, or rosettes. These, unlike those of the Jaguar, never have spots inside them.
There are 7 subspecies of Leopard (one of them extinct) and several other big cats called leopards which are not the same species, although they are related.
- Family Felidae
- Subfamily Felinae: about 30, mostly small to medium-sized, species
- Subfamily Pantherinae
- Marbled Cat, Pardofelis marmorata
- Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa
- Snow Leopard, Uncia uncia
- Lion, Panthera leo
- Tiger, Panthera tigris
- Leopard, Panthera pardus
- African Leopard, Panthera pardus pardus
- Amur Leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis (critically endangered)
- Anatolian Leopard, Panthera pardus tulliana (critically endangered)
- Barbary Leopard, Panthera pardus panthera (critically endangered)
- Sinai Leopard, Panthera pardus jarvisi
- South Arabian Leopard, Panthera pardus nimr (critically endangered)
- Zanzibar Leopard, Panthera pardus adersi (extinct)
- Jaguar, Panthera onca
- Subfamily Acinonychinae: Cheetah