Leopards (Panthera pardus) are highly adaptable and are found in habitats from deserts to rain forests. They are found in a large part of Africa, parts of the Middle East, eastern Russia, and parts of Asia including China, India and central and southwestern Asia. They are the smallest of the big cats and are excellent climbers and good swimmers. Rain forest leopards vary from other leopards mainly in their coat coloration.
Leopards average 28 inches at the shoulder and males tend to be larger than females. Adult males weigh 80 to 150 pounds while females are 62 to 100 pounds. They live around 12 to 15 years in the wild and have survived to 23 years in zoos. Rain forest leopards have golden coats, while savanna leopards are yellow to blend with dried grass. All leopards have spots, called rosettes, which help to camouflage them in dappled light. They have beautiful soft coats and have been killed for their fur for centuries.
Hunting and Diet
Most leopards hunt at night and they are very skillful predators. They can hunt on the ground and in trees. Their diet is varied to take advantage of what is available and they will eat birds, small mammals, rodents, warthogs, antelope, deer, monkeys, baboons, fish, reptiles and even carrion. To avoid getting their food taken by other predators, they often store larger kills in trees, and can drag three times their own body weight up to 20 feet high into tree branches.
Black leopards are also called melanistic leopards. At first look they can appear solid black, but when the sun shines on them you can still see they have rosettes when viewed at the right angle. Black leopards are a much higher percentage of the total leopard population in rain forests, and are better suited in the shaded environment. On the Malaysian peninsula over 50 percent of the leopards in the rain forests are black.
The species Neofelis nebulosa is only found in rain forests, scrub and mangrove swamps. It is smaller than the normal leopard and weighs 33 to 50 pounds. It has a tawny or tan coat with cloud shapes, thus the name "clouded leopard." A separate species of clouded leopard lives only in Borneo and is darker than the mainland species with spots inside the cloud markings. They have similar lifestyles and diet to Panthera leopards.
All leopards are threatened by habitat destruction. As rain forest is cleared for human settlement, there is a decline in their natural food sources. Settlers then poison leopards to stop them attacking livestock. Large trees that they use to sleep and store food in are cut down for building projects. They are also killed by poachers for their whiskers, which are used in Asian medicine, and their fur coats. Leopard coats are no longer legal, but there is still black market trade in them.
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