Leopards (Panthera pardus) are one of the four 'big cats' of the genus Panthera. (The others are the lion, tiger, and jaguar.) They range in size from 1 to almost 2 metres long, and weigh between 30 and 70 kg. Females are typically around two-thirds the size of males. more...
Most leopards are light tan or fawn with black spots, but their coat color is highly variable. The spots tend to be smaller on the head, larger and have pale centres on the body.
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 Latin for lion, 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. 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 color (a common misconception), but by the length of the tail - panthers supposedly having longer tails than pards (leopards).
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.
Despite its size, this largely nocturnal and arboreal predator is difficult to see in the wild. The best location to see leopards in Africa is in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa, where leopards are habituated to safari vehicles and are seen on a daily basis at very close range. In Asia perhaps the best site is the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, which has the world's highest density of wild leopards, but even here sightings are by no means guaranteed because more than half the park is closed off to the public, allowing the animals to thrive. The recently reopened Wilpattu National Park (also in Sri Lanka), is another good destination for leopard watching.
There are between 7-30 subspecies of leopard (one of them extinct) though not all of these are accepted as distinct by all authorities; below is a list of some of the related animals and their latin names.
- African Leopard*, Panthera pardus pardus (lower risk, least concern)
- Amur Leopard*, Panthera pardus amurensis (critically endangered)
- Anatolian Leopard, Panthera pardus tulliana (critically endangered or possibly extinct)
- Barbary Leopard, Panthera pardus panthera (critically endangered)
- Indian Leopard*, Panthera pardus fusca (lower risk, least concern)
- Indo-Chinese Leopard*, Panthera pardus delacouri
- Iran Leopard*, Panthera pardus saxicolor
- Java Leopard*, Panthera pardus meas (endangered)
- North China Leopard*, Panthera pardus japonensis (endangered)
- Sinai Leopard, Panthera pardus jarvisi
- South Arabian Leopard, Panthera pardus nimr (critically endangered)
- Sri Lanka Leopard*, Panthera pardus kotiya (endangered)
- Zanzibar Leopard, Panthera pardus adersi (extinct)
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