|The leopard is an Old World mammal of the
Felidae family and the smallest of the four roaring cats in the genus
Panthera, the other three are the tiger, lion
and jaguar. Once distributed across southern Asia and Africa, from Korea
to South Africa, the leopard's range of distribution has decreased radically
over time because of a variety of factors, including human influence,
and the leopard now chiefly occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. There are fragmented
populations in India, Indochina, Malaysia, and China. Despite the loss
of range and continual declines in population, the cat remains a "Least
Concern" species; its numbers are greater than that of the other
Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns.
The leopard has relatively short legs
and a long body, with a large skull. Physically, it most closely resembles
the jaguar, although it is usually smaller and of slighter build. Its
fur is marked with rosettes which lack internal spots, unlike those of
the jaguar. Leopards that are melanistic, either completely black or very
dark in coloration, are one of the big cats known colloquially as black
The species' success in the wild owes in part to its opportunistic hunting behaviour, its adaptability to a variety of habitats and its ability to move at up to approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) an hour. The leopard consumes virtually any animal it can hunt down and catch. Its preferred habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains. Its ecological role and status resembles that of the similarly-sized cougar in the Americas. The leopard is an agile and stealthy predator. Although smaller than the other members of the Panthera genus, the leopard is still able to take large prey given a massive skull that well utilizes powerful jaw muscles. Its body is comparatively long for a cat and its legs are short. Head and body length is between 90 and 190 cm (35 and 75 in), the tail reaches 60 to 110 cm (24 to 43 in). Shoulder height is 45 to 80 cm (18-31 in). Males are considerably larger than females and weigh 37 to 91 kg (82 to 200 lbs) compared to 28 to 60 kg (62 to 132 lbs) for females. The larger-bodied populations of leopard, such as the Javan leopard and the leopards from the forested mountains and tropical rainforests of Africa, are generally found in areas isolated from competing large predators, especially from dominant big cats like lions and tigers.
One of many spotted cats, a leopard may be mistaken for a cheetah or a jaguar. The leopard has rosettes rather than cheetah's simple spots, but they lack internal spots, unlike the jaguar. The leopard is larger and less lanky than the cheetah but smaller than the jaguar. The leopard's black, irregular rosettes serve as camouflage. They are circular in East Africa but tend to be square-shaped in southern Africa. Leopards have been reported to reach 21 years of age in captivity.
Studies of leopard home range size have tended to focus on protected areas, which may have led to skewed data; as of the mid-1980s, only 13% of the leopard range actually fell within a protected area. In their IUCN survey of the literature, Nowell and Jackson suggest male home territories vary between 30-78 square kilometers, but just 15-16 km² for females. Research in a conservation area in Kenya shows similar territory sizes and sex differential: 32.8 km² ranges for males, on average, and 14 km² for females. In Nepal, somewhat larger male ranges have been found at about 48 km², while female ranges are in-keeping with other research, at 17 km²; female home territories were seen to decrease to just five to seven km² when young cubs were present, while the sexual difference in range size seemed to be in positive proportion to overall increase. However, significant variations in size of home territories have been suggested across the leopard's range. In Namibia, for instance, research that focussed on spatial ecology in farmlands outside of protected areas found ranges that were consistently above 100 km², with some more than 300 km²; admitting that their data were at odds with others', the researchers also suggested little or no sexual variation in the size of territories. Virtually all sources suggest that males do have larger ranges. There seems to be little or no overlap in territory amongst males, although overlap exists between the sexes; one radio-collar analysis in the Ivory Coast found a female home range completely enclosed within a male's.
The leopard is solitary and, aside from mating, interactions between individuals appear to be infrequent. Aggressive encounters have been observed, however. Two of five males studied over a period of a year at a game reserve in South Africa died, both violently. One was initially wounded in a male-male territorial battle over a carcass; taken in by researchers, it was released after a successful convalescence only to be killed by a different male a few months later. A second was killed by another predator, possibly a spotted hyena. A third of the five was badly wounded in intraspecific fighting, but recovered.
Copyright © 2005-2011 - Bernard Dery. All rights reserved.