Leopards are large cats known for their conspicuous spotted fur and ferocious hunting skills. They are very territorial and tend to avoid other leopards. As our leopard facts show, while leopards are one of the most beautiful cats in the Genus Panthera family, these creatures can also get quite dangerous and are increasingly endangered.
We can also find Leopards across the broadest geographic range of all the big cats. Scattered across many countries in Africa and Asia, leopards live in subcontinents like Sub-Saharan Africa, Northeast Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, etc.
Leopards are one of the most fascinating creatures to look at, from their beautiful and bold spotted furs to their strong hunting, climbing, and swimming skills.
Read on as we plunge into the fascinating world of leopards to dig out some fantastic leopard facts.
Related: You can also check out our compilation of leopard quotes to see what other people have to say about these amazing big cats.
Leopards, or Panthera pardus, belong to the Panthera Genus species. The entire Panthera genus comprises big cats, including the leopard, snow leopard, tiger, jaguar, and lions. Leopards are the smallest of the Panthera species, while tigers are the largest. We can primarily distinguish Panthera species for their anatomy, including powerful jaws, small heads, and large vocal folds that enable them to roar. Snow leopards are the only Panthera species that do not roar.
There are nine subspecies of leopards, including Panthera pardus Orientalis (Amur leopards), Panthera pardus pardus (African leopard), Panthera pardus nimr (Arabian leopard), and Panthera pardus saxicolor (Caucasian leopard, Central Asian leopard, Persian leopard).
We refer to a group of leopards as a leap or a prowl. Leopards are solitary, and so a group typically consists of a mother and her cubs. Their group name comes from the leopard’s remarkable leaping abilities. Leopards can jump up to 10 feet and leap as high as over 20 feet. This leaping ability helps leopards lay hold of their prey quickly. One such prey is the fast gazelle.
You will typically find the leopard hunting and resting alone. They are also territorial and mark their territories using urine scent marks, poop, and claw marks on trees. They are solitary animals and will only come together to mate. The female leopards release pheromones when they are ready to mate. The male and female adult leopards then cross territories to mate.
Leopards are carnivorous animals. Leopards can eat a range of large to small prey feeding on impalas, spotted deers, bamboo rats, monkeys, small birds, and so on. However, these big cats have a wide range of food they can eat and are not picky eaters.
They can also prey on other carnivores, including cheetah cubs, foxes, jackals, etc. Leopards may also steal the kills of other animals like lions and hyenas. These large cats also absorb moisture from their food and can go days without drinking water. In the Kalahari desert, leopards feed on moisture-filled plants like watermelons and succulents.
One unique characteristic of the leopard is its beautiful dark spots. Most leopards have light-colored skin and dark spots on their fur. These spots are called rosettes because of their rose-like shape. The spots are circular-shaped in Eastern African leopards and square-shaped in Southern Africa.
The leopard’s spots provide excellent camouflage against predators in the wild and help them hide undetected from their prey. They also have black markings behind their ears and at the tip of their tails to communicate with other leopards in tall grass.
Black leopards, commonly called black panthers, have a solid black color and dark fur, making it difficult to notice their spots.
Leopards are known for their strength and incredible climbing skills. These big cats love to spend time resting on trees during the day. They stay on branches of trees to hide from predators and prevent other animals from stealing their kill. Thanks to their strong jaws and huge skulls, leopards can skillfully climb trees with their heavy prey thanks to their strong jaws and huge skulls.
Besides being incredible climbers, leopards are also one of the few cats with strong swimming abilities. Leopards are comfortable around the water and might eat fish, crabs, and other sea animals.
Leopards are typically aggressive towards other big cats. However, this big cat can also breed with other cat species successfully. Captive leopards can interbreed with lions - when the male lions interbreed with female leopards, they give birth to lipards. On the other hand, when male leopards interbreed with female lions, they produce leopons. Leopards can also breed with other big cats like jaguars and pumas.
Compared to lions and tigers, leopards are less likely to attack humans and rarely feed on them. However, leopards may come in conflict with humans on a few occasions.
What’s most disturbing about leopards is that because leopards are opportunistic feeders, they can scavenge human remains and may develop a preference for human meat, feeding exclusively on humans.
In the early 20th century, a male leopard in Northern India was responsible for at least 400 human deaths.
Another fact about leopards is that they are fantastic hunters. They have a strong sense of smell and sight which they use to track their prey.
These ambush predators can stalk their prey undetected and then pounce on them. Then, the leopard dashes forward, grappling their prey’s neck and strangling them with their large teeth and strong jaws. A few leopard populations can jump from tree branches to attack their prey.
Typically, leopards don’t choose a mate for life, and rather, they can mate with multiple partners throughout their lifetime. While leopards breed anytime in the year, they mate more during the rainy season.
The female leopards attract potential male leopards by releasing pheromones in their urine. They move back and forth in front of the male leopard, brushing up against him with her tail.
The male leopard mounts the female, biting her nape at intervals.
The copulation lasts only about three seconds, with a six-minute interval between copulation periods. The two leopards can copulate up to 100 times in a day across several days1.
Females can give birth at any time in the year. After a gestation period of 96 days, the female leopard gives birth to two or three leopard cubs. These leopard cubs weigh less than 1kg and will have their eyes shut for the first week.
The female leopards protect their young by hiding them in rocks, dense thickets, bushes, old aardvark holes, and trees to keep them safe while they hunt and feed. Mothers wean their cubs completely at three months, and young leopards become independent around 20 months.
Leopards communicate in different ways. Typically, they bark and may even roar like other cat family members. In the presence of other males, these creatures make grunts that sound similar to sawing wood. When angry, they spit and growl, and when happy, they make purrs and meows similar to domestic cats.
Leopards are nocturnal, which means they are more active at night. Their big eyes and dilating pupils give them a good vision to do most of their hunting in the dark. They stalk animals like antelopes and deers in the dark, killing them and hiding their prey in trees. During the day, leopards spend their time resting and camouflaged in trees or caves.
Sadly, these beautiful creatures risk extinction due to various activities, including habitat loss, large predators, and human conflict.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, most leopard subspecies range from vulnerable to critically endangered species.
People associate Leopard prints with different mythologies that signify wealth and importance. Perhaps one of the more concerning leopard facts, because of the fur patterns, human beings hunt them down, using their furs to make coats and other ornamental pieces. Farmers also hunt them down to protect their livestock. Poachers also kill leopards to make traditional medicine.
Leopards have a wide range of habitats, and we can find them in deserts, shrublands, moist forests, and so on. However, these leopard habitats clash with other predators, causing competition in these territories. Some of these predators include tigers, cheetahs, and hyenas. When resources get scarce, these animals could kill leopard cubs and may also steal prey from tree branches.
We can find Amur leopards in forested regions that span areas of Russia, the Far East, and China. These leopards have a much paler coat and dark wide-spaced spots than other leopards. Sadly, the Amur leopard is critically endangered and is one of the rarest big cats in the world. Thankfully, conservation organizations are working to save these species.
Leopards share similarities with cheetahs and jaguars because of their coat color and spots. However, they differ in size, geography, behavior, and even spot patterns.
Leopards occupy regions in Africa and Asia, from Sub-saharan Africa to regions in East Asia, European Russia, and Southeast Asia. Cheetahs only inhabit Africa and Iran, while we can find jaguars in Central and South America.
Jaguars have different hunting behavior. They crush the skull of their prey with their powerful jaws while leopards target the neck of their prey, suffocating them to death. Leopards are also better climbers and can carry their prey up the tree much faster than jaguars.
Cheetahs are much faster than leopards and have different physical features. One noticeable difference in their physical characteristics is their spot pattern. While leopards have rosettes, cheetahs have oval or solid spots.
As these leopard facts show these amazing and beautiful creatures are scattered across different parts of the world. Their hunting skills and prominent physical features make them fascinating to watch. However, leopards are on the brink of extinction. Thankfully, you can play your part in saving them from extinction by supporting conservation organizations and avoiding clothes and ornaments made of leopard skin.
Hunt, A. 2011. "Panthera pardus" leopard (On-line), Animal Diversity Web
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
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