The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the five “big cats” in the genus Panthera and is a member of the Felidae family. The leopard can be found across areas of sub-Saharan Africa, West Asia, the Middle East, South and South-East Asia. However, many populations are endangered, especially outside of Africa. We have therefore only focused on the leopards found in Africa but if you are interested in tracking snow leopards in central and south Asia do not hesitate to speak to us.
Leopards are a graceful and powerful big cat and are closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars. This beautiful cat is often at the top of everyone’s “wish list” when it comes to seeing the big cats. However, it is an elusive creature and therefore careful planning is required to increase the chances of a good sighting.
The leopard is very similar in appearance to the jaguar, but is smaller and more slightly built. Both have a fur pattern of ‘rosettes’ although the leopard’s are smaller and more densely packed, and they do not usually have the central spots that jaguars have. Both species can be melanistic and we know these as black panthers.
The leopard’s success in the wild is due to its excellent camouflage, its successful and opportunistic hunting behaviour, its broad diet, its capability of moving its kill into trees to protect it from other predators and scavengers, its adaptability to various habitats and ability to run at speeds up to 36 mph (58kmh).
Although leopards are smaller than most other members of the Panthera genus, with a comparatively long body and short legs. However, they are able to hunt and kill large prey due to their massive skulls and powerful jaw muscles. Males are generally about 30% larger than females. Female leopards can give birth at any time of the year and will often have two cubs that initially have barely visible spots. The mother will hide her cubs and move them from one safe location to the next until they are old enough to begin playing and learning to hunt. Cubs live with their mothers for about two years—otherwise but are then pushed out to fend on their own. Hence the reason why leopards are known as being solitary animals.
Leopards are classed as a near threatened specie, primarily due to habitat loss, pest control and illegal hunting by man who sell their pelts for medicinal practices and decoration.