The Leopard is the smallest of the big cat family, but are one of the most daring. They are known for their spots on their fur and live in a wide range of countries across Africa, Asia and Southern Russia.
These wild felines are known for their incredible hunting prowess, speed, and climbing capabilities. They’re also known for a diet as various as their habitats.
Leopard Facts Overview
|Habitat:||Rainforests, savannas, woodlands, and desert edges|
|Location:||Africa and Asia|
|Lifespan:||12 to 17 years|
|Size:||90 to 190 centimeters from nose to rump, 100 centimeter tails|
|Weight:||50 to 70 pounds|
|Color:||Yellow or beige with dark markings|
|Diet:||Primates, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, antelope, cheetah cubs, and warthogs|
|Predators:||Lion, African wild dogs, hyenas, and tigers|
|Top Speed:||58 km/h (36 mph)|
|No. of Species:
Their are 8 recognized subspecies of leopard across various regions of the world, which include the African leopard, Indian leopard, Javan leopard, Arabian leopard, P. p. tulliana, Amur leopard, Indochinese leopard and Sri Lankan leopard.
The leopard is a nocturnal carnivore found most commonly in rainforests and savannas. However, they can also be found near deserts, mountains and the coast.
Compared to other large cats, the leopard has comparatively short legs and a large head. Their fur is marked with rosettes on their body, and solid black spots on their legs. In drier more desert regions, they are more pale cream in colour, whereas those in forests and mountains have much darker golden fur coats.
Illegal poaching and loss of habitat and resources are some of the leading reasons for the decline in the leopard population, much like with other big cats found across Africa and Asia.
As of this writing, leopards are considered vulnerable, which is one of three listings under the umbrella of threatened. However, there are also conservation efforts in place to help make sure we get to enjoy the presence of these unbelievable big cats for along time.
Interesting Leopard Facts
1. Leopards can come in different colors
Chances are, when you think of a leopard, you probably think of the average light-colored leopard with brown spots (these are called rosettes, by the way, because of how they resemble roses!). However, that’s not the only appearance you’ll see.
While a bit rare, there is a black leopard, known as a melanistic leopard. These leopards are the same species as lighter-colored ones but have a unique gene that gives them such dark fur that you can barely see their rosettes.
2. There’s maths behind their spots
Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing came up with a theory for why the leopard has its spots and how patterns in nature can be explained by mathematics.
In 1952 he published a paper called ‘The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis’ which disapproved the apparent randomness of patterns found on animals and plants and came up with an elegant mathematical formula for them. 1
3. They are the most widely distributed big cat in Africa
Leopards can be found in a vast variety of habitats, from forests to deserts, mountains to coastlines.
They can also be spotted on the outskirts of large cities in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
4. They’re solitary animals
Some big cats, like the lion, like to roam together – not the leopard. Leopards are extremely solitary animals, and they like to maintain their own territory that they mark with scratches, urine, and feces in order to keep other leopards away.
The only time you’ll usually every see two leopards mingling in a single territory is if they’re a male and female looking to mate. Leopards can give birth any time in the year, so there’s no set time when they’ll start crossing territories looking for a mate.
5. Leopards are skilled at going airborne
Leopards may not have wings but that doesn’t mean their stuck on the ground!
On top of having fast speeds nearing 60 kilometers per hour, you’ll be surprised to learn that leopards can leap up to 6 meters forward (that’s horizontal distance, not vertical, by the way!). That’s more than if a giraffe were to lay down with their neck stretched out!
Leopards are also expert climbers. Because they’re nocturnal, you can expect to find them resting in the high branches on trees during the day. Some will even drag their prey up there to guard it.
6. They make a variety of sounds
Another skill that leopards have mastered? Making a variety of sounds!
From coughing to growling, there’s no shortage to the sounds that leopards will make when interacting with each other and their environment.
While some of these sounds may sound a little strange, they all serve a purpose in showing off just how the leopard is feeling. This strange, hoarse cough is used to help avoid confrontation by alerting other leopards on the individual’s presence. This keeps them from running into each other.
Purring, on the other hand, serves the exact purpose you would expect. That’s right – just like housecats, leopards will purr to show off just how happy and content they are. However, there’s actually quite a bit of discourse about whether or not the leopard’s purr is a true purr like your cat’s. Since they have a different anatomy and bone structure than small cats, many scientists believe that a leopard’s purr is actually more of a gurgle.
7. Leopards are the smallest of the big cats
While they’re certainly no house cats, leopards are actually the smallest of the big cat family. That’s right, all of their cousins, from cheetahs to lions to jaguars, outsize these lithe and lethal felines.
Full grown and at their largest from nose to rump, however, leopards can grow to be anywhere form about 90 to almost 200 centimeters. For small specimen’s, their tails can be nearly double their size! Not including their tail, the average housecat is only around 45 centimeters – half the size of the leopard.
8. They carry their prey into trees
While leopards are known for hunting prey nearly the same size as them – if not larger! – they’re also known for carrying their prey into trees to eat!
Leopards are anything but picky eaters too. In fact, you may find them enjoying everything from monkeys to rodents to snakes to birds to antelopes to, get ready for this one, cheetah cubs. They’ll occasionally enjoy their meal to go, but it’s much more likely to find them climbing a tree with their prey. 2
9. Their tail is nearly as long as their body
The leopards very long tail helps them balance, when climbing, running and changing direction quickly when hunting or evading a predator.
10. They rarely attack humans, but it does happen
Leopards are the least likely of the big cats to become man eaters, although there are around 55 humans killed in India each year where humans come into contact with leopard populations.
There are also some reports of leopards becoming man eaters, and stalk remote village populations for their food. Back in 1918 the ‘Leopard of Rudraprayag’ is reported to have killed over 125 people, while the ‘Leopard of Panar’ was reported to be responsible for killing 400 people in villages in India.
11. They can see 7 times better in the dark than humans
They have specially adapted retinas that allow them to hunt in the pitch black of the jungle.
12. They now live in just 25% of their historical global range
They are now considered locally extinct in many regions they used to live, such as North Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Moroccoa, UAE, Syria, Tunisia and many other countries due to habitat loss and urbanisation.
13. The English name ‘leopard’ means ‘spotted lion’ in Latin
It was derived from Old French and Latin.
14. A ‘Leopon’ hybrid was crossbred between a leopard and lioness
They were crossbred in captivity in Japan in 1953. The ‘Leopon’ offspring were spotted and larger than the juvenile Leopard.
15. While rare, tigers and lions can kill and consume leopards
Interspecies killing between full-grown large cats is generally rare, however tigers and lions given the opportunity with readily kill and consume leopard adults and cubs.
Bears, hyenas and wolves will also fight leopards for their kills.
16. Leopards are considered vulnerable
Past estimations of their population are likely inaccurate, but it was thought in 2008 that there were 700,000 leopards globally.
However, this population is declining in large portions. It’s primarily threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and urbanisation.
Hunting and exporting of leopards is legal, but restricted by 12 African countries to 2,560 skins and body parts each year. However, leopards are also threatened by poaching and trophy hunting of their leopard skin outside of permitted hunting.
Leopard Fact-File Summary
Related ‘Big Cat’ Facts
Fact Sources & References
- BBC Earth. “The maths behind a leopard’s spots”. Accessed 10th April 2022.
- Times of India. “Watch: Leopard shows off kill, drags prey heavier than itself up a tree”. Mar 29, 2020.