Leopards are one of the most adaptable and successful big cats, thriving in a variety of habitats and feeding on a large variety of prey. They are notoriously capable of supreme stealth, and are considered the hardest big cat to encounter in the wild. No other big cat is as skilled at ambush as leopards. They are also expert tree climbers, and even drag heavy carcasses up into the branches with ease.
Did You Know?Leopards are found from the Western coast of Africa to the Eastern coast of Asia, and Indonesia.
Leopards (Panthera pardus) are the smallest members of the Panthera genus, and grow up to 100-150 cm long, and can weigh up to 30-50 kg (66-110 lb). They have one of the longest tails -- relative to the rest of the body -- among big cats, and have relatively much stronger scapular muscles, which allow them to climb trees with ease.
Like tigers or jaguars (and unlike lions), leopards are extremely solitary hunters. They establish large ranges and don't tolerate any intrusions except for mates. Even breeding males and females are only together for a few days. Two male leopards will almost never share a territory, although siblings may rarely tolerate each other.
Distribution of Leopards; Dark areas are where leopard populations are most dense
Africa is the only continent where you can still find a healthy population of this wild cat. The African leopard's range covers eastern and central Africa and some fragmented regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. In Asia it is still found in some Southwest and Central Asian regions, but in marginal population. In northeast Asia, leopards are crucially endangered animals. However, in the Indian subcontinent, China and southeast Asia, a strong population of leopards is found, though fragmented.
Their habitat consists of dense bushes around rocky areas. Riverine forest areas are also among their favorite habitats. Their supreme adaptability is the key to their survival as they manage to survive the loss of their habitat to human population, surviving in close proximity to humans in many areas. They hunt majorly at night and dusk, and spend their day on the high branches of trees. Like all big cats, leopards have tapetum lucidum, a reflective membrane in their eyes that enhances their vision allows them to see much better than humans or, more importantly, their prey.
No other big cat shows the adaptability of leopards when it comes to a staple diet. Leopards can eat anything from insects such as beetles to monkeys, large bovine animals and antelopes. This adaptability has allowed leopards to inhabit a large range of biomes, and can be found in closer proximity to humans than most other big cats. They are even jocularly said to have adapted to adapt.
They primarily feed on the ungulates and primates found in their respective area. Leopards in the African savannah feed on zebras, gazelles, impalas, and macaques, whereas leopards in the scrublands and temperate forests of India feed on chital (spotted deer), sambar deer, and Hanuman langurs. They also kill apes such as chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas, though they usually don't attack an adult male ape.
Leopards can also subsist on rats, mice, lizards, frogs, insects, fish, and terrestrial birds. They can also kill crocodiles on land, and also sometimes feed on smaller predators such as foxes, jackals, weasels, martens, etc. Leopards in various parts of the world occasionally capture livestock; goats, sheep and dogs are the major victims. This leads to conflict with humans.
Like many other predators, the biggest threat to leopards comes from habitat destruction and poaching by humans. The leopard's former range extended from South Africa to Egypt, and from Morocco to Korea and southeastern stretches of Russia. However, human development has extirpated this fascinating animal from many regions.
Leopard fur is a highly valued material, and poaching to obtain the same is rampant, despite the presence of laws against it.
Leopards are less likely to become man-eaters than other, larger big cats such as tigers or lions, but if they do, leopards can be even deadlier than tigers. Due to their unparalleled ability to evade attention and their smaller stature, leopards are more successful than the large, distinctive tigers. Despite being smaller than average humans, leopards, who are capable of killing adult chimps and gorillas, can easily overpower humans. Two infamous man-eating leopards, the Rudraprayag leopard and the Panar leopard, were said to have killed more than 125 and 400 people respectively. In several parts of its habitat, especially central Africa and India, people are infrequently killed by leopards even to this day.
Leopards are one of the most abundant big cats in the wild, and they are naturally built to survive changes, which means that their future is secure, at least for now.