Characteristics of Leopards

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Leopards are top predators.
Leopards are top predators. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Leopards are members of the big cat family and are closely related to lions and tigers. Worldwide, nine subspecies of leopard exist including the Indian, African and Persian varieties. Leopards are powerful, effective hunters that are considered among the top predators throughout much of their home range. Hunting and habitat loss has meant that some of the subspecies have become endangered.

Physical Description

The leopard is a large cat that grows to over 6 feet in length, excluding its over 4 foot tail, and up to 176 lbs. in weight. Its coat ranges from tawny to yellow in color with numerous dark, rosette-shaped markings which vary based on subspecies and region. It has a slender, powerful body, with males being larger than females. It has small, rounded ears and long eyebrows which protect the animals eyes while traveling through undergrowth.

Habitat and Range

Leopards have a large range which includes large areas of Africa, China, India, southeast Asia and Russia. Leopards mainly live in woodlands, grasslands and open savanna areas but also can be found in desert and more mountainous areas. The cats tend to be found near areas with trees due to being good climbers. Leopards are also good at swimming when necessary.

Diet

The leopard is a top predator, using a stalk and pounce method of hunting. It creeps as close as possible to its prey, using its coloration in high grasses to camouflage itself. When it is within a few feet, the leopard pounces on its prey, killing the animal with a powerful bite which snaps the neck and causes paralysis. Competition from other top predators means the leopard will often have to drag its kill up into a tree to eat it unmolested.

Life Cycle

Leopards, unlike lions, are solitary animals, hunting and living alone and generally only coming in contact to breed. The cats can breed year-round, but breeding peaks in the rainy season. Females produce offspring every 15 to 24 months. Leopard pregnancy lasts around 96 days, with an average of 2 to 3 offspring born. The mother is the sole caregiver and looks after the offspring for between 13 and 18 months before they are big enough to look after themselves. In the wild, leopards can live for around 17 years but have been recorded at 27 years old in captivity.

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