leopard it is a member of the big cat family; of a medium size. It has been able to take advantage of the habitats not used by other felines and has adapted to live in the branches of trees, becoming an agile and opportunistic feline.

Licking leopard
Licking leopard

Species

There are seven subspecies of leopards that differ in appearance and geographic location. Being the most common and widespread African leopard.

  • African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)
  • Leopardo de Amur (Panthera pardus orientalis)
  • Anatolian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana)
  • Barbary Leopard (Panthera pardus panthera)
  • Sinai Leopard (Panthera pardus jarvisi)
  • Leopard of South Arabia (Panthera pardus nimr)
  • Zanzibar Leopard (Panthera pardus adersi)

It has been the source of much genetic confusion among the scientific community and for a long time was considered a hybrid of Lion y jaguar, until just over 100 years ago that it began to be distinguished as a species. Such confusions come from the Black Panther, which is nothing more than a leopard with a genetic mutation known as melanism, where it is covered by a completely black layer of skin.

Features

The leopard has a long, slender body with short, sturdy legs. The tail is long to help it balance in the trees.

The strong legs and claws allow it to rise from the trees. The claws are retractable, allowing you to hide them when they are not needed.

Its sight and hearing are keen, which together with its sensitive whiskers make it the perfect nocturnal predator.

The coloration and markings vary according to the habitat; those found in open grasslands are light yellow in color and those found in forests are darker and more marked. The dark and annular motifs that cover the body are called rosettes, but they become solid spots on the face and on the extremities, on the part of the tail they form rings. Together they provide a camouflage.

Behavior

The leopard is a solitary and nocturnal animal, which hunts both on the ground and in the trees. They are excellent climbers and most of the day is spent resting under the shade of the tree branches or under a rock.

When it comes to hunting, it is quite unique as it relies on stealth to get as close to its prey as possible, rather than chasing its prey at high speed. Once captured and dead, it is taken to a safe place which can be dense vegetation, the trunk of a tree or the branches of trees.

They establish their territory by scent marks and by producing harsh sounds. The size varies according to the habitat and the available food, but the territory of the males is much greater than that of the females; that often overlap with that of males up to 40% of the area.

Leopard resting on a branch
Leopard resting on a branch

Habitat

The leopard is a very adaptable animal, which is why it is found in many different habitats. The most common areas are: tropical forests, wooded savanna, barren deserts and high mountain lands.

To inhabit an area, you only need a good source of cover and an ample source of food supply. Some hunt near human settlements.

Distribution

The leopard is found in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Small isolated populations also exist in remote areas of the Far East, North Africa and Arabia.

Food

The leopard is a carnivorous animal that hunts medium-sized mammals such as deer, antelope or wild boar, which are ambushed from the branches of trees or from high vegetation. They can also feed on small prey such as birds, reptiles, and rodents. When large animals are rare they can hunt dung beetles (Scarabaeus seduced).

By consuming a wide variety of prey, both large and small, they can avoid intense competition for food from other carnivores such as tigers and hyenas.

Sometimes the prey are not consumed immediately and are stored to eat later.

Predators

The leopard, being extremely stealthy, has few predators. The greatest threat is other adult leopards, along with tigers and lions, when they have the opportunity to catch someone weakened or unaware.

Young are much more vulnerable and threatened by hyenas, jackals, lions, tigers, snakes, and raptors.

Reproduction

The leopard does not have a strict breeding season, so the females can reproduce every two months. The gestation period lasts about three months.

She gives birth to between 2 - 6 young that are born blind and weigh only half a kilo. Being very vulnerable, they remain hidden in the vegetation until at 6 - 8 weeks of age, they can follow their mother by having the camouflage provided by their dark, woolly hair and blurred spots.

At three months they are weaned, but they will continue with their mother until they are 18 months old, where they will encourage their young to establish their territory to become fully independent. Afterwards, she will be ready to mate again.

Young females do not completely stray far from their mother and it is common for their territory to overlap with their mother's territory.

State of conservation

The leopard is classified by the IUCN as near threatened in its natural environment, since the populations are stable, but they are beginning to have problems.

Some subspecies are considered endangered or critically endangered and the Zanzibar leopard is believed to be extinct. Subspecies suffer more because they are geographically isolated and have smaller populations.

Relationship with humans

The leopard is one of the most hunted animals since the big game began in Africa. They have been affected by trophy hunting. They are also hunted by local populations who hunt them for their skin and meat. They are also frowned upon by ranchers, as humans are not afraid and can be seen hunting cattle.

However, increased tourism in Africa has meant that leopards are protected by humans, as people who visit the continent want to see these exotic animals in the wild. In this way, fewer leopards are chased by hunters.

Popular culture

Formerly considering a hybrid of a lion and a panther, it was reflected in its name. It is composed of the Greek words λέων leōn (lion) and πάρδος brown (male panther). It is also related to Sanskrit पृदाकु last (snake, tiger, panther) and is probably derived from the Mediterranean language and Egyptian.

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