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9 Types of Leopards: Subspecies, Identification, and Photos

Next to lions and tigers, the leopard is another graceful big cat that evolved into a skilled climber adorned with rosettes. Explore the diversity within these felines through the various types of leopards, from African to Sri Lankan subspecies. Learn to distinguish them apart and discover other felines with similar names.

Leopard Classification

The leopard, Panthera pardus, belongs to the Felidae family - the cat family - and shares its genus, Panthera, with lions, tigers, jaguars, and snow leopards. 

Naturalists proposed 27 subspecies between the 19th and mid-20th centuries, but mitochondrial analysis has recognized eight leopard subspecies since 19963. These include African, Persian, Indian, Sri Lankan, Javan, Amur, North Chinese, and Indochinese leopards. Additionally, further analysis has confirmed a ninth subspecies, the Arabian leopard. 

The following section will discuss these subspecies in more detail and introduce other feline species bearing the name leopard.

Related Read: Leopard Facts.

9 Types of Leopards

1. African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)

african leopard
Photo by Derek Keats on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The African Leopard is the most widespread leopard living in sub-Saharan Africa. Depending on its habitat, its coat varies from pale yellow to deep gold, even black. It features black rosettes, with a head, limbs, and belly spotted in solid black.

Like other felines, it showcases sexual dimorphism, with male leopards notably larger and heavier. The heaviest recorded leopard weighed 211 pounds4, spotted in South West Africa.

Regarding diet, documents record at least 92 prey species, ranging from rodents and birds to antelopes and arthropods. African Leopards primarily target locally abundant medium-sized ungulates.

2. Persian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor)

persian leopard
Photo by Botend on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Persian Leopard is a large subspecies of leopard found in Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, and Turkmenistan. Its synonymous scientific names are P.p. ciscaucasica and P.p. tulliana.

They have a gray-red coat with large rosettes on the flanks and back, smaller spots on the shoulder and upper legs, and spots on the head and neck. Its color can vary in Iran, with both light and dark individuals present.

The Persian leopard is an endangered species with numbers less than a thousand7. Poaching, loss of prey, military activity, and habitat destruction due to deforestation, fires, farming, overgrazing, and infrastructure growth contribute to declining leopard populations.

3. Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)

indian leopard
Photo by Srikaanth Sekar on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Indian Leopard is a subspecies of leopard found in the Indian subcontinent. It lives in all the forested habitats of the area except for dry deserts and above the timberline in the Himalayas.

Their coats vary in color, from pale yellow to deep gold, and feature black rosettes and spots. Indian Leopards are nocturnal and hunt various prey, including deer, wild pigs, rodents, monkeys, and sometimes dogs.

IUCN’s first assessment of this leopard subspecies is near threatened. The latest status reports from the Wildlife Institute of India estimated their overall population at 128526. The common threats they face are poaching, lack of natural prey, and habitat loss.

4. Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

sri lankan leopard
Photo by Gerard Mendis on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Sri Lankan Leopard is the country's apex predator and one of the largest of its kind, known for its distinct rusty yellow coat adorned with compacted rosettes. 

It can thrive in diverse ecosystems across the island, including lowland forests and mountain regions. This leopard hunts small mammals, birds, reptiles, spotted deer, and wild boar. It sits at the top of the local food chain thanks to the absence of other large predators. 

Despite being demoted to vulnerable status in the latest assessment, Sri Lankan leopards continue to face forest loss and fragmentation due to human encroachment. Hunting, conflict, and diseases like canine distemper are also threats.

5. Javan Leopard (Panthera pardus melas)

javan leopard
Photo by Anaxibia on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Javan leopard is a subspecies of leopard native to the Indonesian island of Java. It calls the different forested habitats of the area its home. Its primary diet consists of barking deer, wild boar, and monkeys. 

Formerly a critically endangered species, Javan Leopards are deemed endangered with an estimated mature population of 3199. With no more than 50 mature individuals per subpopulation, their population is declining due to habitat loss, human conflict, and illegal trading.

6. Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)

amur leopard
Photo by William Warby on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Primorye region in southeast Russia and northern China is home to the rare subspecies of leopards called the Amur Leopard. It is known for its thick, pale fur coat, which grows up to 2.8 inches long during winter. This coat provides warmth and effective camouflage in snowy terrain. 

It tends to be more active during daylight hours and twilight, aligning with the activity patterns of their typical prey like roe deer and wild boar. 

With populations hovering around 100 in the past years, Amur Leopards are critically endangered animals. They face threats such as poaching, habitat loss, deforestation, and low genetic diversity due to inbreeding. 

Further threats include forest fires, road construction, and diseases like the canine distemper virus, which could infiltrate the small population.

7. North-Chinese Leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis)

The North Chinese Leopard has a visually appealing coat with pale yellows, rich golds, dark spots, and rosettes. They reside in various landscapes in northern China, where they roam alone.

A 2021 study revealed an increasing population of North Chinese leopards in central China1 despite challenges such as human disturbances and shifts in prey species distribution. Progress in protection programs is critical to their survival. 

In 2024, thrilling reports emerged of a healthy leopard sighting in Shanxi Province. Ecological initiatives have boosted their habitats, leading to hopeful signs of population restoration and expanded territory.

8. Indochinese Leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri)

indochinese leoapard
Photo by Tomáš Najer on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Indochinese Leopard is a smaller subspecies of the leopard family found in Southeast Asian forests. It has rusty red skin that fades into paler sides. Its appearance is defined by small, densely packed rosettes, which give it a dark look. The leopard's fur is notably short.

Unfortunately, Indochinese Leopards are critically endangered5. Their population has declined by over 80% over three generations, and they now occupy only 2%- 6% of their original Southeast Asian habitat. 

Increased poaching for illegal trade is the primary cause of this decline, with habitat destruction and possibly disease also as contributing factors. 

9. Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)

arabian leopard
Photo by Land Rover Our Planet on Flickr licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Arabian Leopard is a carnivorous animal found in the rocky terrains of the Arabian Peninsula. It is marked by rosettes and is adorned in hues from pale yellow to gray. Despite being the smallest leopard subspecies at 80 inches and 66 lbs, it is the largest cat in the region.

While smaller than other leopards, Arabian leopards are at the top of the desert food chain. Analyses show that due to declining ungulate populations, Arabian leopards adjust their diets, shifting to smaller prey like hares, porcupines, hedgehogs, and rodents. Increasingly, leopards also target livestock.

Arabian Leopards are a critically endangered subspecies8, with only 70-84 mature individuals left, primarily in fragmented subpopulations in Oman and Yemen. 

These numbers continue to decline due to threats such as illegal killing, habitat destruction, and prey depletion. While there is some minimal expansion in Oman, this species remains on the brink of extinction.

Other Feline Species With The Leopard Name

1. Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)

snow leopard
Photo by Eric Kilby on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Like its namesake, the Leopard, the Snow Leopard is a member of the Panthera genus. Surprisingly, DNA sequence analysis shows it is more closely related to tigers2.

They are found in the cold mountainous regions from Afghanistan to southern Siberia and western China, primarily within the altitude range of 9,800–14,800 ft. 

Their fur, a blend of whitish-gray and black, broad paws, and small ears help them survive their challenging environment.

Sadly, IUCN considers Snow Leopards vulnerable10. With a mere 2,710 to 3,386 estimated mature individuals left, they face threats like habitat degradation, hunting, and illegal trade.

2. Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

clouded leopard
Photo by Frida Bredesen on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The Clouded Leopard or Mainland Clouded Leopard, a member of the Pantherinae subfamily similar to leopards, populates regions from Nepal's Himalayan foothills through Mainland Southeast Asia and into China. 

This creature is highly arboreal, favoring the primary evergreen tropical rainforest. However, its adaptability also opens up habitats within dry and deciduous forests.

A pattern of black and dusky gray blotches often dominates, sporting dark gray or ochreous fur, the animal's appearance. Moreover, their teeth are the largest among all wild cat species, earning them the nickname "modern-day saber-tooth.”

Sadly, its population has seen a steep decrease of over 30% from 1999 to 2019 due to hunting and habitat loss. Consequently, clouded leopards are vulnerable species with less abundance and reduced distribution than before11.

3. Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

The Clouded Leopard inhabits the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. It is in the same genus as the mainland clouded leopard, but differences exist. 

A medium-sized wild cat, this animal boasts larger and darker spots that mirror clouds, contrasted with a darker coat than its mainland relatives. 

They show adaptability across varied forests, elevations, and disturbances. However, they are highly dependent on forests. With Borneo and Sumatra experiencing high deforestation rates, primarily due to expanding oil palm plantations, habitat loss is a serious threat. With current numbers of around 4,500, the Clouded Leopard has the IUCN vulnerable species status12.

1

Yang, H., Xie, B., Zhao, G., Gong, Y., Mou, P., Ge, J., & Feng, L. (2020). Elusive cats in our backyards: persistence of the North Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis) in a human‐dominated landscape in central China. Integrative Zoology, 16(1), 67–83.

2

Davis, B. W., Li, G., & Murphy, W. J. (2010b). Supermatrix and species tree methods resolve phylogenetic relationships within the big cats, Panthera (Carnivora: Felidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 56(1), 64–76.

3

Miththapala, S., Seidensticker, J., & O’Brien, S. J. (1996). Phylogeographic Subspecies Recognition in Leopards (Panthera pardus): Molecular Genetic Variation. Conservation Biology, 10(4), 1115–1132.

4

Brain, C. K. (1983). The Hunters Or the Hunted?: An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy. University of Chicago Press. pp. 85–91. ISBN 978-0-226-07090-2.

5

Rostro-García, S., Kamler, J.F., Clements, G.R., Lynam, A.J. & Naing, H. (2019). Panthera pardus ssp. delacouri (errata version published in 2020). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T124159083A163986056. 

6

Y.V.Jhala, Qamar Qureshi, and S.P.Yadav. (2020). Status of leopards in India, 2018. National Tiger Conservation Authority, Government of India, New Delhi, and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Technical Report TR/2020/16

7

Ghoddousi, A. & Khorozyan, I. (2023). Panthera pardus ssp. tullianaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2023: e.T15961A50660903. 

8

Al Hikmani, H., Spalton, A., Zafar-ul Islam, M., al-Johany, A., Sulayem, M., Al-Duais, M. & Almalki, A. (2023). Panthera pardus ssp. nimr. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2023: e.T15958A46767457. 

9

Wibisono, H., Wilianto, E., Pinondang, I., Rahman, D.A. & Chandradewi, D. (2021). Panthera pardus ssp. melas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T15962A50660931. 

10

McCarthy, T., Mallon, D., Jackson, R., Zahler, P. & McCarthy, K. (2017). Panthera uncia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22732A50664030. 

11

Gray, T., Borah, J., Coudrat, C.N.Z., Ghimirey, Y., Giordano, A., Greenspan, E., Petersen, W., Rostro-García, S., Shariff, M. & Wai-Ming, W. (2021). Neofelis nebulosa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T14519A198843258.

12

Hearn, A., Ross, J., Brodie, J., Cheyne, S., Haidir, I.A., Loken, B., Mathai, J., Wilting, A. & McCarthy, J. (2015). Neofelis diardi (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T136603A97212874. 

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

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Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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