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Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopards have a very short and sleek coat with coloration that varies from light tawny to deep rusty yellow, with a lighter underside. They have dark spots on their face, head, throat, chest, and legs. The rest of their body is covered in "rosettes". The leopard's dark rosettes help it to blend into the foliage while stalking their prey. East African loepard have circular rosettes, and Southern African leopards have square ones. Like human fingerprints, each individual leopard's spots are unique. Leopards can also be totally black, a condition known as "melanism", which is common amongst the spotted cats. Black leopards (also known as panthers) are not a separate species. The spots appear as black rosettes on a dark brown background. Melanistic leopards and normal leopards have been known to occur in the same litter. Black leopards are more common in areas with denser trees.

Distribution and Description

Leopards can be found throughout Africa, from the Arabian Peninsula through Asia to Manchuria and Korea. They have short, rounded ears and an elongated body set on short powerful legs and broad paws. They have heavy torsos, thick necks, and long tails used for balancing. and broad paws. Leopards have sharp, retractible claws that are hooked to help provide traction when climbing trees. Because the claws are curved so much, a lot of debris and bacteria are caught underneath of them, so a scratch from a leopard can cause a severe infection and could even be deadly. Leopards keep their claws sharp by clawing the bark of trees, which helps to shed the outer layer of the nail.

The leopard is the smallest of the roaring cats (lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards). Leopards vary in length from 3-6.25 ft with a tail length of 22.5-43 inches, and a height of 17.5-30.5 inches at the shoulder. Males are up to 50% larger than females. They weigh between 80-150 pounds and females weigh between 62.5-100 pounds.

Hunting and Eating

Pound for pound, the leopard is the strongest climber of the large cats and capable of killing prey larger than itself. They are opportunistic predators that will consume protein in almost any form, from beetles up to antelopes twice its own weight. Their main diet consists of over 30 different species including: medium sized antelopes (reedbuck, impala, Tommy's gazelles) and the young of larger species (topi, hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra). They'll also eat carrion (dead animals), hares, birds, small carnivores and even an occasional baboon. They can live without drinking water, getting the moisture they need from their food.

Leopards are mainly nocturnal, but will hunt during the day sometimes, as well. They are versatile arboreal hunters. Among the big cats they are probably the most accomplished stalkers. Leopards stalk and pounce but don't usually chase their prey long distances. They grab their prey or swat it, using their hooked retractable claws, and kill it with a bite to the throat. Leopards can run at about 36 miles per hour (58 kph) for brief periods. They can leap more than 20 feet (6 meters) horizontally, and 10 feet (3 meters) vertically. They are also excellent swimmers.

Both lions and hyenas have been known to take away a leopard's kill. To prevent this, leopards store their larger kills in trees where they can feed on them in relative safety. A leopard can climb as high as 50 feet (15 meters) up a tree holding a dead animal in its mouth, even one larger and heavier than itself. They are good, agile climbers, but can not descend from a tree headfirst. They lack the ankle flexibility . The only cats that have the ankle flexibility to descend from a tree headfirst are the Margay and the two clouded leopard species.

Leopards are solitary creatures. Each individual has a home range that overlaps that of others. The male's range is much larger and generally overlaps with those of several females. Leopards define their territory boundaries with urine, feces and scratch marks.

Vocal Communication

Like the other big cats, leopards can roar. Their roar sounds like someone sawing wood. Roaring is how leopards communicate with eath other over long distances. They announce their presence to other leopards with a rasping cough. Leopards also growl and purr. Other vocalizations include grunting, growling, hissing and meowing.