Species: Panthera pardus
Subspecies: P. pardus pardus (African leopard);P. pardus delacouri (Indo-Chinese leopard);P. pardus fusca (Indian leopard); P. pardus japonensis (North China leopard);P. pardus kotiya (Sri Lanka leopard); P. pardus melas (Javan leopard); P. pardus nimr (Arabian leopard); P. pardus orientalis (Amur leopard) ; P. pardussaxicolor(Persian leopard)
Basic leopard facts:
Leopards are the smallest of the big cats — averaging 28 inches (71 centimeters) at shoulder height — but they're also the most successful. They're stealthy hunters and resourceful scavengers, and they can adapt to almost any environment.
The color and length of a leopard's fur can vary depending on where it lives. Leopards in the savanna, for example, will have yellow or orange fur, while the fur of desert leopards is lighter. Leopards from cold climates have longer, grayer fur, and rainforest leopards have golden coats.Leopards' spots, called rosettes, can be either round or square to help them blend in even better with their surroundings.
Leopards eat anything from carcasses, fish and reptiles to mammals such as baboons, antelopes, warthogs, hares and rodents. Of all the big cat species, leopards are the best climbers.They're also strong swimmers, and they'll sometimes catch fish and crabs.
Leopards are solitary, elusive and skillful predators. They hunt, kill and feed quickly and stealthily, usually during the night. Retractable claws help them grab and swat prey, which they kill with a bite to the throat. When leopards do make a kill, they'll drag the carcass up a tree to keep it away from scavenging lions and hyenas.
Each individual leopard has its own hunting range, which it marks with urine and claw marks. A male's range usually overlaps with several females' ranges, which are much smaller. Leopards announce their presence to other leopards with a rasping cough.
Female leopards can give birth at any time of the year, and there are usually two or three cubs in a litter. The mom keeps her cubs hidden for about eight weeks, until they're old enough to play and learn to hunt. She gives them meat when they are six or seven weeks old, and continues suckling them for at least three months. Cubs live with their mothers for about two years — the only time in a leopard's life that it doesn't live alone.
Male leopards generally weigh between 80-150 pounds (36-68 kilograms), while females weigh between 62 – 100 pounds (28-45 kg).
In the wild, leopards live between 12 to 15 years; in zoos, they can live up to 23 years.
Where leopards live:
Most leopards are found in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa, but they also cover other areas of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. [Gallery: The Wild Cats of Kruger National Park]
Dense brush in rocky areas and forests are their favorite hangouts, but they can adapt to almost any environment, from tropical rainforests to deserts, mountains and the outskirts of cities. Leopards are the only big cats that can live in both deserts and rainforests.
Conservation status: Near Threatened
As a species, leopards aren't endangered, but some subspecies are in trouble, especially those that live outside of Africa. For example, only about 30 Amur leopards, which are native to southwestern Russia, remain in the wild. [Gallery: Rare and Beautiful Amur Leopards]
The more threatened subspecies of leopard include:
P. pardus kotiya (Sri Lanka leopard) – Endangered
P. pardus melas (Javan leopard) – Critically Endangered
P. pardus nimr (Arabian leopard) – Critically Endangered
P. pardus orientalis (Amur leopard) – Critically Endangered
P. pardussaxicolor(Persian leopard) – Endangered
Experts think there are about half a million leopards living around the globe — 10 times more than lions, tigers and cheetahs combined. They're declining in large parts of their range, though, due to habitat loss and poaching for their coats and whiskers.
Odd leopard facts:
Leopards can drag three times their own body weight up to tree branches over 20 feet (6 meters) high.Male leopards have been known to kill small giraffes and drag the carcasses into trees.
The leopard's name comes from the Greek word leopardus, a combination of leon (lion) and pardus (panther).
Poachers often hunt leopards for their whiskers, which are used in some potions.
Snow leopards (Panthera uncial) are a different species than leopards and are actually most closely related to tigers. Their morphology and behaviors are quite different from those of other leopards. The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), despite its name, belongs to a different genus.
Leopards roar, but not as loud as lions. They also purr and growl.
They have amazing hearing. Leopards can pick up five times more sounds than humans can.
Leopards don't need to drink much water; they can live off the moisture in their prey.
They're experts at climbing up and down trees, often descending headfirst. They're the largest cat species that regularly climbs trees; they even sleep sprawled out on tree branches.