Leopard (Panthera pardus) - Wiki
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[Photo] Photo taken by Sandra Fenley of an African Leopard while on safari in Africa (Kenya).
The Leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the four 'big cats' of the genus Panthera. Originally, it was thought that a leopard was a hybrid between a lion and a panther, and the leopard's common name derives from this belief; leo is the Greek and Latin word for lion (Greek leon, λ??ων) and pard is an old term meaning panther. In fact, a "panther" can be any of several species of large felid. In North America, panther means puma and in South America a panther is a jaguar. Elsewhere in the world a panther is a leopard. 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.
The leopard is the fourth largest of the "big cats" in the world with the jaguar, lion and tiger being larger and the fifth largest of all cats with Pumas being slightly larger. Leopards range in size from one to just over two metres (6.5 ft) long, and generally weigh between 30 and 70 kg (65???155 lb). Some males may grow over 90 kg (200 lb). Females are typically around two-thirds the size of males. For its size, the leopard is the most powerful feline in the world next to the jaguar. Leopards tend to be the apex predator in areas where bigger competitors do not occur, especially lions and tigers. This explains why the leopards in areas such as the African rainforests or Sri Lanka are larger than leopards elsewhere.
Most leopards are light tan or fawn with black rosettes, but their coat color is highly variable. There are smaller rosettes and spots on the head.
The big cats, especially the spotted cats, are easy to confuse for those who see them in captivity or in photographs. The leopard is closely related to, and appears very similar to, the jaguar; it is less often confused with the cheetah. The ranges, habitats, and activities of the three cats make them easy to distinguish in the wild.
Since wild leopards live only in Africa and Asia while wild jaguars live only in the Americas, there is no possibility of confusing them in the wild. There are also visual markings that set them apart. Leopards do not have the spots within the rosettes that jaguars always have, and the jaguar's spots are larger than the leopard's (see the photographs in jaguar). The Amur leopard and the North Chinese leopard are occasional exceptions. The leopard is smaller and less stocky than the jaguar, although it is more heavyset than the cheetah.
Besides appearance, the leopard and jaguar have similar behavior patterns. Jaguars can adapt to a range of habitats from rainforest to ranchlands while leopards are even more adaptable ranging in from deserts and mountains, savanna and woodlands.
Although it is not unusual for a leopard to be mistaken for a cheetah due to their frequently overlapping ranges, they can actually be easily distinguished. The leopard is heavier, stockier, has a larger head in proportion to its body, and has rosettes rather than spots. It also lacks the ring pattern that marks the end of the cheetah's tail and the black, "tear-drop" markings that run from the inner corners of the cheetah's eyes to the corners of its mouth. Additionally, cheetahs run much faster than leopards do and do not climb trees, except while they are cubs, whereas leopards are excellent climbers. Also, leopards are more active at night (nocturnal), whereas cheetahs are usually diurnal.
A black panther is a melanistic leopard (or melanistic jaguar). These have mutations that cause them to produce more black pigment (eumelanin) than orange-tan pigment (pheomelanin). This results in a chiefly black coat, though the spots of a black panther can still be discerned in certain light as the deposition of pigment is different in the pattern than in the background. There are also white panthers.
Distribution and conservation
Prior to the human-induced changes of the last few hundred years, Leopards were the most widely distributed of all felids other than the domestic cat: they were found in historical times through most of Africa (with the exception of the Sahara Desert) and in many parts of southern Asia. In the Pleistocene leopards also occurred in Europe. Today leopards are still found in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Minor, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, Siberia, much of mainland South-East Asia, and the islands of Java and Sri Lanka. In some of these areas they are very rare today.
The leopard is doing surprisingly well for a large predator. It is estimated that there are as many as 500,000 leopards worldwide. But like many other big cats, leopards are increasingly under threat of habitat loss and are facing increased hunting pressure. Because of their stealthy habits and camouflage, they can go undetected even in close proximity to human settlements. Despite the leopard's abilities, it is no match for habitat destruction and poachers, and several subspecies are endangered, namely, the Amur, Anatolian, Barbary, North Chinese, and South Arabian leopards.
There have been as many as 30 subspecies of leopard suggested; however, most of these are questionable.
- African leopard, Panthera pardus pardus (lower risk, least concern)
- Anatolian leopard, Panthera pardus tulliana (critically endangered, possibly extinct)
- Amur leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis (critically endangered)
- Arabian leopard, Panthera pardus nimr (critically endangered)
- Barbary leopard, Panthera pardus panthera (critically endangered, possibly extinct)
- Indian leopard*, Panthera pardus fusca (lower risk)
- Indo-Chinese leopard*, Panthera pardus delacouri (vulnerable)
- Java leopard*, Panthera pardus melas (endangered)
- North China leopard*, Panthera pardus japonensis (vulnerable)
- Persian leopard or Iranian leopard*, Panthera pardus saxicolor (endangered)
- Sinai leopard or Judean Desert leopard, Panthera pardus jarvisi (critically endangered, possibly extinct)
- Sri Lanka leopard*, Panthera pardus kotiya (endangered)
- Zanzibar leopard, Panthera pardus adersi (critically endangered, possibly extinct)
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