AskDefine | Define leopard

Dictionary Definition



1 the pelt of a leopard
2 large feline of African and Asian forests usually having a tawny coat with black spots [syn: Panthera pardus]

User Contributed Dictionary



Leo + pard. In mediaevel times it was thought that a leopard was a cross between a lion leo and a pard or black panther.



  1. A large wild cat with a spotted coat, Panthera pardus, indigenous to Africa and Asia.


a large wild cat with a spotted coat, Panthera pardus

Crimean Tatar


leopardus - leopard.





Useinov-Mireev 2002}}


Extensive Definition

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is an Old World mammal of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four big cats of the genus Panthera, which also consists of the tiger, lion and jaguar. Once distributed across southern Eurasia and Africa, from Korea to South Africa and Spain, it has disappeared from much of its former range and now chiefly occurs in subsaharan Africa. There are fragmented populations in Israel, Indochina, Malaysia, and western China. Despite the loss of range and continued population declines, the cat remains a least-concern species;
A panther can be any of several species of large felid; in North America, the term refers to cougars, in South America, jaguars, and elsewhere, leopards. Early naturalists distinguished between leopards and panthers not by colour (a common misconception), but by the length of the tail—panthers having longer tails than leopards.
Felis pardus was one of the many species described in Linnaeus's 18th-century work, Systema Naturae.
The generic component of its modern scientific designation, Panthera pardus, is derived from Latin via Greek πάνθηρ pánthēr. A folk etymology held that it was a compound of παν pan ("all") and θηρ ("beast"). However, it is believed instead to derive from an Indo-Iranian word meaning "whitish-yellow, pale"; in Sanskrit, this word's reflex was पाण्डर pāṇḍara, from which was derived पुण्डरीक puṇḍárīka ("tiger", among other things), then borrowed into Greek.


Like the rest of the Feline family, the Panthera genus has been subject to much revision and debate and exact relations between the four species (as well as the clouded leopard and snow leopard) have not been effectively resolved. DNA evidence shows that the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard share a common ancestor and that this group is between six and ten million years old; the fossil record points to the emergence of Panthera just two to 3.8 million years ago. In a mitochondrial DNA study, Yu and Zhang (2005) suggest that the leopard is most closely related to the snow leopard, and go so far as placing the latter as a fifth species of Panthera, P. Uncia. Canonical works, such as the Mammal Species of the World, continue to list the snow leopard as the only species within its genus, Uncia uncia, but this could change; Johnson et al. (2006) support the placement of the snow leopard within Panthera. They suggest, however, that the snow leopard is most closely aligned with the tiger. The leopard is held to have diverged from the Panthera lineage subsequent to these two species, but before the lion and jaguar.
Other subspecies classified under old taxonomic divisions:
Today usually included in the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus):
  • Barbary leopard (Panthera pardus panthera)
  • Cape leopard (Panthera pardus melanotica)
  • Central African leopard (Panthera pardus shortridgei)
  • Congo leopard (Panthera pardus ituriensis)
  • East African leopard (Panthera pardus suahelica)
  • Eritrean leopard (Panthera pardus antinorii)
  • Somalian leopard (Panthera pardus nanopardus)
  • Ugandan leopard ((Panthera pardus chui)
  • West African leopard (Panthera pardus reichinowi)
  • West African forest leopard (Panthera pardus leopardus)
  • Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi)
Today usually included in the Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor):
  • Anatolian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana)
  • Baluchistan leopard (Panthera pardus sindica)
  • Caucasus leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica)
  • Central Persian leopard (Panthera pardus dathei)
  • Sinai leopard (Panthera pardus jarvisi)
Today usually included in the Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)
  • Kashmir leopard (Panthera pardus millardi)
  • Nepal leopard (Panthera pardus pernigra)

Prehistoric extinct subspecies

Physical characteristics

The leopard is an agile and graceful predator. Although smaller than the other members of Panthera, the leopard is still able to take large prey given a massive skull that well utilizes powerful jaw muscles.
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.

Black leopards

A melanistic morph of the leopard occurs particularly in mountainous areas and rain forests. The black color is heritable and caused by only one recessive gene locus. In some regions, for example on the Malayan Peninsula, up to half of all leopards are black. This may be a beneficial mutation that helps them survive in their rainforest habitat. In Africa, black leopards seem to be most common in the Ethiopian Highlands. While they are commonly called black panthers, the term is not applied exclusively to leopards, as it also applies to melanistic jaguars. Black leopards are less successful on the African plains because their coloration makes them stand out. While known as panthers, there are no known cases of melanistic cougars.

Biology and behavior

Traditionally stealthy animals, leopards are known for their ability to move undetected and silently. They are also agile climbers, and swim strongly as well.
They are mainly nocturnal but can be seen at any time of day and will even hunt during daytime on overcast days. In regions where they are hunted, nocturnal behaviour is more common. These cats are solitary, avoiding one another. However, three or four are sometimes seen together. Hearing and eyesight are the strongest of these cats' senses and are extremely acute. Olfaction is relied upon as well, but not for hunting. When making a threat, leopards stretch their backs, depress their ribcages between their shoulder blades so they stick out, and lower their heads (similar to domestic cats). During the day they may lie in bush, on rocks, or in a tree with their tails hanging below the treetops and giving them away.

Diet and hunting

Leopards are opportunistic hunters. Although mid-sized animals are preferred, the leopard will eat anything from dung beetles to male giant elands. Their diet consists mostly of ungulates and monkeys, but rodents, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish are also eaten; In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of the leopard's prey, especially impala and Thomson's gazelles. In Asia the leopard preys on deer such as chitals and muntjacs as well as various Asian antelopes and Ibex.
The leopard stalks its prey silently and at the last minute pounces on its prey and strangles its throat with a quick bite. Leopards often hide their kills in dense vegetation or take them up trees,


A male may follow a female who catches his attention. Eventually, a fight for reproductive rights may take place. Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round (Asia and Africa) or seasonally during January to February (Manchuria and Siberia). The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–3, but infant mortality is high and mothers are not commonly seen with more than 1–2 cubs. The pregnant females find a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to give birth and make a den. Cubs open their eyes after a period of 10 days. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in color with less defined spots. Around three months the infants begin to follow the mother out on hunts. At one year of age leopard young can probably fend for themselves but they remain with the mother for 18–24 months.

Social structure and home range

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. 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.
The leopard is solitary and, aside from mating, interactions between individuals appear to be infrequent.


Distribution and habitat

Data from 1996 found the leopard to have the largest distribution of any wild cat, although populations before and since have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of subsaharan Africa. The IUCN notes that within subsaharan Africa the species is "still numerous and even thriving in marginal habitats" where other large cats have disappeared, but that populations in North Africa may be extinct. In Asia, data on distribution are mixed: populations in Southwest and Central Asia are small and fragmented; in the northeast portion of the range, they are critically endangered; and in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and China, the cat is still relatively abundant.

Ecological role

Because of their wide habitat range, leopards must compete for food and safety with other large predators such as lions, tigers, spotted hyenas and wild dogs. These competitors sometimes may steal the leopard's kill or devour its young. A single lion or tiger is capable of killing an adult leopard. Leopards have adapted to live alongside these other predators by hunting at different times of the day, and by avoiding areas frequented by them. In search of safety, the leopard will often stash its young or a recent kill high up in a tree. Lions are occasionally successful in climbing trees and fetching leopard kills, and if motivated, an adult tiger might also scale a tree to acquire food.
Nowell and Jackson note that resource portioning occurs where the leopard shares range with the lion or tiger: the leopard tends to take smaller prey (usually less than 75 kg) where its large feline cousins are present.

Variant coloration

A pseudo-melanistic leopard has a normal background colour, but its excessive markings have coalesced so that its back seems to be entirely black. In some specimens, the area of solid black extends down the flanks and limbs; only a few lateral streaks of golden-brown indicate the presence of normal background colour. Any spots on the flanks and limbs that have not merged into the mass of swirls and stripes are unusually small and discrete, rather than forming rosettes. The face and underparts are paler and dappled like those of ordinary spotted leopards.
In a paper about panthers and ounces of Asia, Reginald Innes Pocock used a photo of a leopard skin from southern India; it had large black-rimmed blotches, each containing a number of dots and it resembled the pattern of a jaguar or clouded leopard. Another of Pocock's leopard skins from southern India had the normal rosettes broken up and fused and so much additional pigment that the animal looked like a black leopard streaked and speckled with yellow.
Most other colour morphs of leopards are known only from paintings or museum specimens. There have been very rare examples where the spots of a normal black leopard have coalesced to give a jet black leopard with no visible markings. Pseudo-melanism (abundism) occurs in leopards. The spots are more densely packed than normal and merge to largely obscure the background colour. They may form swirls and, in some places, solid black areas. Unlike a true black leopard the tawny background colour is visible in places. One pseudo-melanistic leopard had a tawny orange coat with coalescing rosettes and spots, but white belly with normal black spots (like a black-and-tan dog).
A 1910 description of a pseudo-melanistic leopard: There is, however, a peculiar dark phase in South Africa, a specimen of which was obtained in 1885 in hilly land covered with scrub-jungle, near Grahamstown. The ground-colour of this animal was a rich tawny, with an orange tinge; but the spots, instead of being of the usual rosette-like form, were nearly all small and solid, like those on the head of an ordinary leopard; while from the top of the head to near the root of the tail the spots became almost confluent, producing the appearance of a broad streak of black running down the back. A second skin had the black area embracing nearly the whole of the back and flanks, without showing any trace of the spots, while in those portions of the skin where the latter remained they were of the same form as in the first specimen. Two other specimens are known; the whole four having been obtained from the Albany district. These dark-coloured South African leopards differ from the black leopards of the northern and eastern parts of Africa and Asia in that while in the latter the rosette-like spots are always retained and clearly visible, in the former the rosettes are lost – as, indeed, is to a considerable extent often the case in ordinary African leopards – and all trace of spots disappears from the blacker portions of the skin.Lydekker, R. (1910)|Harmsworth Natural History
Another pseudo-melanistic leopard skin was described in 1915 by Holdridge Ozro Collins who had purchased it in 1912. It had been killed in Malabar, India that same year.
The wide black portion, which glistens like the sheen of silk velvet, extends from the top of the head to the extremity of the tail entirely free from any white or tawny hairs … In the tiger, the stripes are black, of a uniform character, upon a tawny background, and they run in parallel lines from the centre of the back to the belly. In this skin, the stripes are almost golden yellow, without the uniformity and parallelism of the tiger characteristics, and they extend along the sides in labyrinthine graceful curls and circles, several inches below the wide shimmering black continuous course of the back. The extreme edges around the legs and belly are white and spotted like the skin of a leopard … The skin is larger than that of a leopard but smaller than that of a full grown tiger.Collins, Holdridge Ozro (1915)
In May 1936, the British Natural History Museum exhibited the mounted skin of an unusual Somali leopard. The pelt was richly decorated with an intricate pattern of swirling stripes, blotches, curls and fine-line traceries. This is different from a spotted leopard, but similar to a king cheetah hence the modern cryptozoology term king leopard. Between 1885 and 1934, six pseudo-melanistic leopards were recorded in the Albany and Grahamstown districts of South Africa. This indicated a mutation in the local leopard population. Other king leopards have been recorded from Malabar in southwestern India. Shooting for trophies may have wiped out these populations.


A pumapard is a hybrid animal resulting from a union between a leopard and a puma. Three sets of these hybrids were bred in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Carl Hagenbeck at his animal park in Hamburg, Germany. Most did not reach adulthood. One of these was purchased in 1898 by Berlin Zoo. A similar hybrid in Berlin Zoo purchased from Hagenbeck was a cross between a male leopard and a female puma. Hamburg Zoo's specimen was the reverse pairing, the one in the black and white photo, fathered by a puma bred to an Indian leopardess. Whether born to a female puma mated to a male leopard, or to a male puma mated to a female leopard, pumapards inherit a form of dwarfism. Those reported grew to only half the size of the parents. They have a puma-like long body (proportional to the limbs, but nevertheless shorter than either parent), but short legs. The coat is variously described as sandy, tawny or greyish with brown, chestnut or "faded" rosettes.

Leopards and humans

Leopards have been known to humans since antiquity and have featured in the art, mythology and folklore of many countries where they have occurred historically, such as ancient Greece, Persia and Rome, as well as some where they haven't such as England. The modern use of the leopard as an emblem for sport or coat of arms is much more restricted to Africa, though numerous products worldwide have used the name.
Leopards and humans have many relations, involving tourism, heraldry and modern culture. Leopeard domestication has also been recorded - several leopards were kept in a menagerie established by King John at the Tower of London in the 13th century; around 1235 three animals were given to Henry III by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.


Despite its size, this largely nocturnal and arboreal predator is difficult to see in the wild. The best location to see leopards in Africa is in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa, where leopards are habituated to safari vehicles and are seen on a daily basis at very close range. In Asia, one can see leopards at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, which has one of the world's highest densities of wild leopards, but even here sightings are by no means guaranteed because more than half the park is closed to the public, allowing the animals to thrive. Another good destination for leopard watching is the recently reopened Wilpattu National Park, also in Sri Lanka. In India leopards are found all over the country and this wide distribution leads to maximum man-animal conflict. Among the best places to observe leopards in India are national parks in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.


The lion passant guardant or "leopard" is a frequently used charge in heraldry, most commonly appearing in groups of three. The heraldric leopard lacks spots and sports a mane, making it visually almost identical to the heraldric lion, and the two are often used interchangeably. These traditional lion passant guardants appear in the coat of arms of England and many of its former colonies; more modern naturalistic (leopard-like) depictions appear on the coat of arms of several African nations including Benin, Malawi, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon which uses a black panther.

The Leopard Men

The Leopard men were a West African society that practiced cannibalism during the 1900s. They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire.
Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards' claws and teeth. The victims' flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the society. They held a belief that this ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the society as well as their entire tribe.


Although most leopards will tend to avoid humans, people are occasionally targeted as prey. Most healthy leopards prefer wild prey to humans, but cats who are injured, sickly or struggling with a shortage of regular prey often turn to hunting people and may become habituated to it. In the most extreme cases, both in India, a leopard dubbed "the Leopard of Rudraprayag" is claimed to have killed over 125 people and the infamous leopard called "Panar Leopard" killed over 400 after being injured by a poacher and thus being made unable to hunt normal prey. The "Leopard of Rudraprayag" and the "Panar Leopard" were both killed by the famed hunter Jim Corbett. Man-eating leopards are considered bold by feline standards and commonly enter human settlements for prey, more so than their lion and tiger counterparts. Kenneth Anderson, who had first hand experience with many man-eating leopards, described them as far more threatening than tigers:
Because they can subsist on small prey and are less dependent on large prey, leopards are less likely to turn to man-eating than either lions or tigers. However, leopards might be attracted to human settlements by livestock or pets, especially domestic dogs.



  • Allsen, Thomas T. (2006). "Natural History and Cultural History: The Circulation of Hunting Leopards in Eurasia, Seventh-Seventeenth Centuries." In: Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawai'i Press. Pp. 116-135. ISBN-13: ISBN 978-0-8248-2884-4; ISBN-10: ISBN 0-8248-2884-4
  • Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2005). The Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr). Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Number 42, June 2005. pp. 1-8. (in German).
  • Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2006). The Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis, Gray 1862) in Neunkirchen Zoo, Neunkirchen, Saarland, Germany. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Number 60, December 2006. pp. 1-10.
  • The Serengeti Lion
  • Leopards and spots on ears and tail
  • DeRuiter, D.J. and Berger, L.R. (2000) Leopards as Taphonomic Agents in dolomitic Caves - Implications for bone Accumulations in the Hominid-bearing Deposits of South Africa. J. Arch. Sci. 27, 665-684.
  • Beyond Conservation: A Wildland Strategy

External links

leopard in Afrikaans: Luiperd
leopard in Amharic: ግሥላ
leopard in Arabic: نمر
leopard in Bulgarian: Леопард
leopard in Catalan: Lleopard
leopard in Czech: Levhart skvrnitý
leopard in Danish: Leopard
leopard in German: Leopard
leopard in Estonian: Leopard
leopard in Modern Greek (1453-): Πάνθηρας
leopard in Spanish: Panthera pardus
leopard in Esperanto: Leopardo
leopard in Persian: پلنگ
leopard in French: Léopard (félin)
leopard in Korean: 표범
leopard in Croatian: Leopard
leopard in Indonesian: Macan Tutul
leopard in Italian: Panthera pardus
leopard in Hebrew: נמר
leopard in Georgian: ჯიქი
leopard in Haitian: Lewopa
leopard in Kurdish: Leopar
leopard in Latin: Pardus
leopard in Lithuanian: Leopardas
leopard in Marathi: बिबट्या
leopard in Malay (macrolanguage): Harimau Bintang
leopard in Dutch: Luipaard
leopard in Japanese: ヒョウ
leopard in Norwegian: Leopard
leopard in Norwegian Nynorsk: Leopard
leopard in Occitan (post 1500): Leopard (felin)
leopard in Polish: Lampart
leopard in Portuguese: Leopardo
leopard in Russian: Леопард
leopard in Southern Sotho: Nkwe
leopard in Sicilian: Liupardu
leopard in Simple English: Leopard
leopard in Slovak: Leopard škvrnitý
leopard in Slovenian: Leopard
leopard in Serbian: Леопард
leopard in Serbo-Croatian: Leopard
leopard in Sundanese: Maung totol
leopard in Finnish: Leopardi
leopard in Swedish: Leopard
leopard in Thai: เสือดาว
leopard in Vietnamese: Báo hoa mai
leopard in Turkish: Pars
leopard in Ukrainian: Леопард
leopard in Contenese: 豹
leopard in Chinese: 豹

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dalmatian, Leo, Siberian tiger, antigorite, bobcat, butterfly, candy cane, cat-a-mountain, catamount, chameleon, cheetah, chrysotile, confetti, cougar, crazy quilt, firedog, harlequin, iris, jaguar, lion, lynx, mackerel, mackerel sky, marble, marbled paper, moire, mother-of-pearl, mountain lion, nacre, ocelot, opal, ophite, painter, panther, patchwork quilt, peacock, puma, rainbow, serpentine, serpentine marble, shot silk, simba, spectrum, tiger, tortoise shell, wildcat, zebra
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