Panthera pardus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Photo: Doug Lee
IUCN Conservation Status:
Conservation dependent, least concern (CD/lc)
Leopards have the greatest geographic distribution of the world’s cats and are found throughout the continents of Africa, Asia and in the Far East. The leopard is a symbol of power among many African tribes and its skin is often used for the cloaks worn by their kings. Its name is derived from the Greek word leopardos after leo for lion and pardus for panther.
It was first described as Felis pardus by Linnaeus in 1758. In 1930 it was renamed Panthera pardus by R. I. Pocock, distinguishing it from the non-roaring cats. Initially some 27 sub-species were named of which 13 occurred in Africa. More recently this number was reduced to eight but serious controversy led to the suggestion in 1995, of classing all African leopard into a single subspecies Panthera pardus pardus.
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A typically cat-like profile with a powerful muscular body, relatively short legs and a very long tail. The pelage is covered with a series of black rosette spots on a light tan to golden-yellow background that varies between habitats. Individual leopard can be identified by the pattern of the rosette spots, especially those around the neck.
Black leopards are well known in the wet tropical forests of Asia and especially in India. They are not a different species but rather colour hybrids. Black colouring gives them enhanced stalking abilities in dark, forests. In Africa, black leopards has been reported in the forests of Mount Kenya and Mount Ruwenzori. It is said that large numbers of black leopards once inhabited parts of Ethiopia.
Comparison to Man
The trophy value is the combined measurement of the maximum width of the skull and the maximum length.
Habitats range from wet tropical forest to bushveld, thickets, savannah, grassland, highveld, marshland, fynbos, Karoo shrubland and semi-arid deserts. Leopards are found on beaches, plains and on mountains up and into the snowline. The only habitat totally avoided is sandy desert as the Namib and Sahara. Suitability of a habitat is determined by the availability of prey and the accessibility of terrain suitable for stalking. Camouflage such as tall grass, bushes and rocks are needed for successful kills. Open, short grass plains are defined as marginal habitat. Rocky koppies and hills, kloofs and riverine areas are favoured. Leopard occur at an annual rainfall of <100 mm to >2 000 mm and are independent of surface drinking water.
Feeding & Nutrition
Leopards are opportunistic and will eat any food source available. The natural diet depends largely upon the composition of the prey in the area. In some areas hyrax and rodents such as mice and porcupine are readily hunted but in others are totally neglected. Preferred prey size is 15-65 kg varying from 200 gm (mice) to 240 kg (gemsbuck bull). In the Kruger National Park and the adjacent Timbavati Nature Reserve impala contributed 78-88% of the diet. In contrast, in Zimbabwe the hyrax, hare and klipspringer contributed >50% of the diet. Fish, ground birds and small birds such as pigeons form an important part of the diet. Leopards do not fear humans and have been reported to become man-eaters, a phenomenon especially common in India. They also attack and kill other predators such as the aardwolf, the bat-eared fox and the black-backed jackal and have a distinct preference for members of the canine family including feral dogs. Baboons and monkeys are also favoured.
Leopards are primarily nocturnal and most kills take place at night. They hunt alone and the prey is stalked by crawling close to a distance of between 4-7 m. The cat then leaps forward onto the prey, aiming for the neck area. They do not chase prey and only 20% of stalking attempts are successful. After the prey is killed, the belly is ripped open and the intestine jerked out. The remains of the carcass are then concealed in thick undergrowth or hoisted up into a tree. They do not scavenge or take bait that they have not killed. The majority of the wool and feathers of prey such as rodents and fowl are plucked out with the incisors, formed into a bolus in the mouth and discarded before the flesh is eaten. As much as 12 kg of meat can be consumed in a single meal. On average, adult bushveld leopard males in a habitat with large antelope consume 3.3 kg per day and females 2.5 kg. The frequency of kills for females varies from 1in 12 days in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, to 1 in 7 days in the Kruger National Park and 1 in 1.5 days in the Kalahari.
Males kill every three days in the Kalahari. They do not depend on drinking water as they obtain moisture from their prey and also produce water as a by-product of their metabolism. In the Kalahari, succulent fruit such as gemsbok cucumber and stammas are readily eaten for their moisture content.
Leopards are solitary except when they pair during mating or when a female is accompanied by her cubs. The mating pair splits soon after mating. The cubs leave the mother shortly before the birth of the next litter at an age of 12-18 months and become solitary. They generally become nomads for 6-12 months and then establish a home range. Males may wander a distance of up to 100 km before settling.
In bushveld leopards rarely move more than 5 km per night. Recorded distances in the dry savannah of Namibia are 0.8-17.8 km (average 12.2 km for males and 8.4 km for females), and up to 29 km per day in the Kalahari. Movement is not continuous but consists of a series of short distances of up to 200 m.
Photo: Doug Lee
|Leopard information table
|Adult body weight
|Adult shoulder height
|Total body length (snout to tail)
|Age of sexual maturity
|Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
|1st litter born at
|Independent at age
Ratio: Natural (all ages)
Ratio: Natural (adults)
Absolute minimum number needed
Smallest viable population size
|Spatial behaviour: Home range
|Spatial behaviour: Territory range
||Entire home range
||Entire home range
|Daily food consumption (adults)
|Maximum stocking load
||Determined by prey animal abundance
|Minimum habitat size required
|Annual population growth
|Optimal annual rainfall
|Optimal vegetation structure:
Woody canopy cover:
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