The Leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the four "big cats" of the genus Panthera. 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 Greek and Latin word for lion (Greek leon, λέων) 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 cougar and 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 colour (a common misconception), but by the length of the tail — panthers having longer tails than leopards.
Although it is not unusual for a leopard to be mistaken for a cheetah due to their frequently overlapping ranges, they can actually be easily distinguished. The leopard is heavier, stockier, has a larger head in proportion to its body, and has rosettes rather than spots. It also lacks the ring pattern that marks the end of the cheetah's tail and the black, "tear-drop" markings that run from the inner corners of the cheetah's eyes to the corners of its mouth. Additionally, cheetahs run much faster than leopards do and do not climb trees, except while they are cubs, whereas leopards are excellent climbers. Also, leopards are more active at night (nocturnal), whereas cheetahs are usually diurnal.
Leopards are infamous for their ability to go undetected. They sometimes live practically among humans and are usually still tough to spot. They are graceful and stealthy. Amongst the big cats they are probably the most accomplished stalkers. They are good, agile climbers and can descend from a tree headfirst. Along with climbing, they are strong swimmers but not as fond of water as tigers; for example, leopards will not normally lie in water. They are mainly nocturnal but can be seen at any time of day and will even hunt during daytime on overcast days. In regions where they are hunted, nocturnal behavior is more common. These cats are solitary, avoiding one another. However, 3 or 4 are sometimes seen together. Hearing and eyesight are the strongest of these cats' senses and are extremely acute. Olfaction is relied upon as well, but not for hunting. When making a threat, leopards stretch their backs, depress their ribcages between their shoulder blades so they stick out, and lower their heads (similar to domestic cats). During the day they may lie in bush, on rocks, or in a tree with their tails hanging below the treetops and giving them away.
Fun Leopard Facts
- 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).
- It is estimated that there are as many as 50,000 leopards worldwide.
- Leopards hunt about 90 different species of animals. Diet consists of mostly monkeys, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, wild pigs, and ungulates (hoofed mammals).
- Although most leopards will tend to avoid humans, people are occasionally targeted as prey.
- "The Leopard of Rudraprayag" is claimed to have killed over 125 people and the infamous leopardess called "Panar Leopard" killed over 400 after being injured by a poacher and thus being made unable to hunt normal prey. The "Leopard of Rudraprayag" and the "Panar Leopard" were both killed by the legendary hunter Jim Corbett.
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