- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Felidae
- Genus: Panthera
- Species: pardus
Scientific Name: Panthera pardus
- Panthera pardus pardus– Near Threatened African leopard, Africa (Jacobson et al. 2016)
- Panthera pardus nimr– Critically Endangered Arabian Leopard, Arabia, 45-200 individuals in the wild
- Panthera pardus saxicolor– Endangered Persian Leopard, Southwest Asia, 800-1,000 individuals in the wild
- Panthera pardus melas– Critically Endangered Javan Leopard, Java, 350-525 individuals in the wild
- Pantera pardus kotiya– Endangered Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lanka, 700-950 individuals in the wild
- Panthera pardus fusca– Near Threatened Indian Leopard, Indian sub-continent
- Panthera pardus delacouri– Endangered Indochinese Leopard, Southeast Asia into Southern China (Jacobson et al. 2016).
- Panthera pardus japonensis– Critically Endangered North-Chinese Leopard, Northern China (Jacobson et al. 2016)
- Panthera pardus orientalis– Critically Endangered Amur Leopard Russian Far East, Korean Peninsula and northeastern China, less than 60 individuals in the wild
* Panthera pardus melas and Panthera pardus nimr are tentative subspecies due to small population sample sizes
IUCN Red List of Status and Population
Vulnerable (Stein et al. 2016)
Populations are widely distributed across Asia and Africa, but populations have drastically decreased from their historic range and are reduced and isolated (Stein et al. 2016).
Population Trend: Decreasing
* As of 2015 Leopard status has been assessed regionally by the IUCN and have decreased >30% from majority of their home range (Stein et al. 2016)
Leopards are a highly adaptable species and widely distributed throughout the world. They can continue to live in areas where other large carnivores have been extirpated (Stein et al. 2016). Due to the substantial decrease of species over three generations (22.3 years), the species as a whole has been listed as vulnerable (Stein et al. 2016).
*For information on each region, visit IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Panthera pardus
Weight: 37-145 pounds
Length: 5.25 to 7.55 feet
Lifespan: 10-12 years in the wild, 21-23 years in captivity (Hunt 2011).
About: Leopards coats can range from tawny to light yellow, with black spots called rosettes covering their pelage. Each cat’s rosettes are unique to each individual, and are circular in East Africa and more square in South Africa (Hunt 2011). Cubs are a smoky grey color without defined rosettes. There are melanistic leopards, which carry a recessive gene for a black coat and are mostly found in humid forests. Leopards vary in size depending on the geographical area. Males are larger than females, being sexually dimorphic cats.
Leopards are solitary as well as nocturnal carnivores. They are territorial, and use urine, claw marks, as well as vocalizations to mark their territories. Their habitat ranges from 7 square miles to 21 square miles depending on habitat availability. Male territory tends to overlap with multiple females. They are adequate swimmers with excellent vision and hearing, helping them hunt in densely forested areas (Hunt 2011). They can run approximately 40 miles per hour and can jump 7 feet vertically from standing.
Leopards will mate year round, with peak season being during the rain in May. Females will give birth once every 15 to 24 months, and will stop reproducing when they are 8.5 years of age (Hunt 2011). They are promiscuous breeders, having multiple mates. During copulation breeding pairs will share food resources and will separate after several days of mating (Hunt 2011). Females will give birth to an average of 2-3 cubs after 96 days of gestation and wean them after 3 months (Hunt 2011). They typically will leave their mothers after 13-18 months and lead a solitary life, although they may remain in contact with siblings during the early years of independence (Hunt 2011).
Mothers will protect their cubs by hiding them in dense brush, hollow tree trunks, or rocks while hunting. They will frequently move their den site to prevent other predators from finding them (Hunt 2011).
Leopards are generalist as well as opportunist obligate carnivores, ambushing their prey source. Depending on prey availability as well as competition, leopards prefer medium sized ungulates as their food source. Their diet is one of the most varied of the big cat species, and can feed on insects, birds, reptiles, small mammals, as well as large ungulates. Leopards will feed on domesticated animals, causing severe human-wildlife conflict (Stein et al. 2016).
Leopards typically do not chase their prey after they pounce, so they get as close as possible while hunting (Hunt 2011). They kill their prey by breaking their neck and asphyxiating them, then usually dragging the prey item into a tree or burying it, to get away from other predators (Hunt 2011). Leopards are extremely strong and are able to take on prey up to 10 times their own weight (Hunt 2011).
Habitat types: desert, semi-deserts, arid regions, savannah grasslands, montane regions, mountainous regions, rainforests, snowy regions, suburban and urban environments (Stein et al. 2016). They prefer areas with high tree densities (Hunt 2011).
Current Home Ranges: Leopards occur in the widest range of habitats ranging from: Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Asia, India, Kenya, Iran, Himalayas, Sri Lanka, and Russian Far East (Stein et al. 2016).
Leopards have historically survived outside of protected areas and do occur among densely populated human areas, with also a high level of human-wildlife conflict. Large numbers of leopard populations are killed in India due to their widespread occurrence in human populated areas (Stein et al. 2016).
The size of a leopard’s home range is dependent on prey availability and habitat structure. They will have a larger home range in more arid environments with low prey density (Stein et al. 2016).
According to the conservation entity Panthera, leopards have lost 48-67% of habitat for African leopard species and 83-87% of habitat range for all Asian subspecies, overall habitat range loss for leopards is between 63-75% (Jacobson et al. 2016).
Leopards are heavily poached for the illegal wildlife trade for their skins, which are used in traditional ceremonies, as well as their bones for ancient medicinal remedies within eastern cultures (Stein et al. 2016). They are also hunted as a trophy game species.
Due to poor management and regulation, trophy hunting easily becomes detrimental to leopard populations. In areas where leopards are concentrated, many targeted individuals are in their prime environment for territory as well as reproductively active, and hunting them devastates local populations (Stein et al. 2016).
Conversion of habitat for agriculture to sustain human population growth is a leading cause to biodiversity loss, and fragmenting leopard home ranges (Jacobson et al. 2016).
Main threats to leopards are anthropogenic or human caused. Their habitat has become heavily fragmented, their prey base reduced, and human-wildlife conflict due to livestock and game farming has significantly decreased leopard populations numbers (Stein et al. 2016).
Although leopards are highly adaptable to heavily populated human areas, they are still highly threatened by human-wildlife conflict as well as habitat loss (Jacobson et al. 2016). Leopard populations continue to decrease due to change of land-use, prey availability, as well as being killed by humans due to conflict (Stein et al. 2016).
Other predators such as lions, tigers, spotted hyenas, and wild dogs will kill competing leopards and their cubs due to territory confrontation.
Why leopards matter
Leopards are an important aspect of ecotourism seen throughout National Parks in Africa and Asia. They help to maintain baboon populations. Leopards also help disperse seeds throughout their natural range (Hunt 2011).
Current Conservation efforts
Leopards are included within the CITES Appendix I (Conservation on International Trade in Endangered Species) restricting the trade of leopard body parts such as bones and skins. There are 11 countries that allow 2,560 individuals in sub-Saharan Africa which allow the use of their products. Many African regions have set hunting quotas and sell trophy permits, as well as require assessments of unethical and illegal hunting practices (Stein et al. 2016). Although regulating trophy hunting is important, it does not address the problems with human-wildlife conflict and retaliatory killings of leopards.
Conflict mitigation tactics in highly dense human populated areas throughout leopard home range has included livestock husbandry, compensation and insurance programs, and public outreach and awareness (Stein et al. 2016). Conservation entities have also offered compensation for translocation in areas where leopard populations are dense, although results have shown to be negative (Stein et al. 2016). Wildlife management and benefit sharing for ecotourism are strategies wildlife managers have used to protect leopards from problems associated with human populated areas (Stein et al. 2016).
In North and West Africa, as well as the Middle East and large parts of Asia, leopards are restricted to protected areas with low ability for poaching. However, these areas do not provide enough space for leopards to roam and to maintain genetically viable populations (Stein et al. 2016). Reintroduction projects are also occurring in the Russian Far East and other areas throughout the leopard’s natural home range in Asia (Stein et al. 2016).
An increase of conservation area would safeguard leopard populations and help relieve pressures from habitat destruction. However, leopard habitat ranges drastically vary depending on the subspecies and land area due to their vast distribution (Jacobson et al. 2016).
- “Appendices I, II, and III”. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), https://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php
- Hunt, A. 2011. “Panthera pardus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Panthera_pardus/
- Jacobson et al. “Leopard (Panthera pardus) status, distribution, and the research efforts across its Range”, 2016. https://www.panthera.org/cms/sites/default/files/peerj_1974.pdf
- Stein, A.B., Athreya, V., Gerngross, P., Balme, G., Henschel, P., Karanth, U., Miquelle, D., Rostro-Garcia, S., Kamler, J.F., Laguardia, A., Khorozyan, I. & Ghoddousi, A. 2016. Panthera pardus (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T15954A102421779. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T15954A50659089.en.