The Leopard is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a "Near Threatened" species on the IUCN Red List.
Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera species, and will eat anything from dung beetles to 900 kg (2,000 lb) male giant elands, though prey usually weighs considerably less than 200 kg (440 lb). Their diet consists mostly of ungulates, followed by primates, primarily monkeys of various species. However, they will also opportunistically eat rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds (especially ground-based types like the Vulturine Guineafowl), fish and sometimes smaller predators (such as foxes, jackals, martens and smaller felid species). In at least one instance, a leopard has predated a sub-adult Nile crocodile that was crossing over land. Leopards are the only natural predators of adult chimpanzees and gorillas, although the cat may sometimes choose to avoid these as they are potentially hazardous prey, especially large male silverback gorillas. They stalk their prey silently, pounce on it at the last minute, and strangle its throat with a quick bite. In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of their prey, especially Impala and Thomson's gazelles.
Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although are not as disposed to swimming as some other big cats, such as the tiger. They are very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometers per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 meters (20 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) vertically. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and "sawing" sounds.
In Asia, the leopard primarily preys on deer such as chitals and muntjacs, as well as various Asian antelopes and ibex. Prey preference estimates in southern India showed that the most favored prey of the leopard were chitals. A study at the Wolong Reserve in China revealed how adaptable their hunting behavior is. Over the course of seven years, the vegetative cover receded, and the animals opportunistically shifted from primarily consuming tufted deer to pursuing bamboo rats and other smaller prey.
Leopards are exceptionally adaptable, although associated primarily with savanna and rainforest. Populations thrive anywhere in the species range where grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests remain largely undisturbed. In the Russian Far East, they inhabit temperate forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C (−13 °F). They are equally adept surviving in some of the world's most humid rainforests and even semi-arid desert edges.
- African Leopard
- Amur Leopard
- Arabian Leopard
- Indian Leopard
- Javan Leopard
- Persian Leopard
- Sri Lankan Leopard