Species: P. pardus Schlegel, 1857
The Leopard (Panthera pardus) mammal eutero, carnivore, quadruped, placental belongs to the Felidae family, subfamily of the Pantherinae.
In Africa it is called a leopard, in Asia we prefer to speak of spotted panther for the wild-type and black panther for the melanic form, which is widespread here.
With Jaguar (Panthera onca) and the Puma (Puma concolor), is the largest feline after Leo (Panthera leo) and the Tiger (Panthera tigris).
Today it is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In the islands of Sonda and Java there is the greatest population density due to the melanic form.
According to some biologists, melanic specimens constitute a real breed. For others, however, as happens for the jaguar, we must speak of mutants, subject to an over expression of melanin, due to the mutation of a recessive gene.
They also live in the tropical forests of South Africa, near Cape Town, so much so that some authors have classified them as two subspecies or breeds: Java Leopard (Panthera pardus melas) and Cape Leopard (Panthera pardus melanotica). But to complicate matters, endemic melanic specimens were found (not rinselvatichiti or feral, that is, not escaped from zoos, zooparks or zoosafari) also in Manchuria and Siberia.
A detailed zoogeographic analysis, based on significant skeletal findings and the simultaneous presence of a certain number of specimens, has shown that the distribution area of this feline is extremely complex, as is its eco-ethology.
In the past, but in some of these regions perhaps even today, the Panthera pardus lived in Turkey, Asia Minor, North Africa (Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), Sahara, southern Africa, Eastern Africa, West Africa, all Asia and related islands, up to the Far East (North and South Korea, China, Mongolia, Siberia), and even in Japan and the Philippine archipelago, not to mention Western Europe in Spain, Italy, and southern France . Here they probably died out due to the intense hunting that the ancient Romans, the Iberians and the Gauls did to his precious fur. They also circulated in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans and in the immense Russian territory. This almost cosmopolitan distribution shows the enormous adaptability for ecophysiology, food ecology and eco-ethology in this splendid animal, still capable of living and reproducing in different, sometimes extreme biotopes.
Before seeing how many breeds the subdivision is substantially divided or subdivided into Panthera pardus, we briefly mention the fact that his ancestral ancestor, from which the jaguar would also have descended, is for some biologists identifiable in the clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), endemic to the rain forests of Southeast Asia. A very rare feline, at serious risk of extinction, which has a few hundred specimens in nature. Some are present in zoos, where they have also reproduced.
Smaller than the jaguar and the leopard, the Neofelis nebulosa it generally weighs 15-23 kg, with 25-40 cm at the withers. A coat with large elliptical, irregular spots, with dark margins, which create cloud-shaped patches, and above all, huge canines. They have dimensions of the order of 6-7 cm in length, like those of the Tiger (Panthera tigris), which in relation to the size of the species, undoubtedly has the largest teeth in the world of cats. For other authors the Neofelis nebulosa it is instead a subspecies or race of the Panthera pardus. For them, the ancestral ancestor of the leopard and the jaguar would in fact be the Berber leopard, which other zoological biologists consider instead as a breed or subspecies, so much so as to classify it Panthera pardus panthera, with the typical trinomial name of the subspecies.
Leopard Panthera pardus pardus (photo http://www.parfaitimage.com
Originally, before the last Sahara desertification, the Berber leopard was widespread throughout North Africa. Today perhaps it still survives sporadically in North-West Africa, up to the mountain range of the Moroccan Atlas.
The latest sightings by biologists and killings by poachers, who unfortunately always aspired to their fur, date back to 1991, near the valley of Mount Jbel Bou Iblane in the Moroccan Atlas.
The IUCN thinks that it may have become extinct, or that at most a dozen specimens remain, or a little more, at heights of the order of 3100 meters above sea level, in areas where they can theoretically live thanks to their physiology. But these observations and censuses are particularly complicated, in many cases impractical.
The last captive specimen appears to have died in a U.S. zoo in 1999.
Be that as it may, this elusive forerunner of the panther and the leopard has not yet been identified with certainty, although considering its existence is much more than a hypothesis. Also the number of breeds and subspecies, in which zoological biologists divide the Panthera pardus, it is not yet well defined.
A first subdivision considers nine subspecies or races:
- Panthera pardus pardus (Berber leopard)
- Panthera pardus saxicolor (Iranian and Persian leopard, Southwest Asia)
- Panthera pardus orientalis (Amur Leopard, Russian Far East, Northern China, Korea)
- Panthera pardus japonensis (Northern China Leopard)
- Panthera pardus fusca (Indian leopard, south-eastern Pakistan, Nepal)
- Panthera pardus delacouri (Indochinese leopard, mainland southeast Asia)
- Panthera pardus melas (Java Leopard, Java Island)
- Panthera pardus kotiya (Sri Lankan leopard, Sri Lanka)
- Panthera pardus nimr (Arabian leopard, Arabian peninsula)
Other authors add further breeds such as:
- Panthera pardus pardus (African Leopard)
- Panthera pardus shortridgei (Central African leopard)
- Panthera pardus suahelica (Leopard East Africa)
- Panthera pardus melanotica (Cape leopard)
- Panthera pardus ituriensis (Congo leopard)
- Panthera pardus nanopardus (Somali Leopard)
- Panthera pardus antinorii (Eritrean leopard)
- Panthera pardus reichinowi (Leopard West Africa)
- Panthera pardus chui (Uganda leopard)
- Panthera pardus adersi (Zanzibar leopard)
- Panthera pardus leopardus (Forests in West Africa)
The Indian leopard is thought to (Panthera pardus fusca) can in turn be divided into two further breeds: the Kashmir Leopard (Panthera pardus millardi) and the Nepalese Leopard (Panthera pardus pernigra).
And up to 30 years ago, some biologists considered the Persian Leopard to be fragmentable in further breeds (Panthera pardus saxicolor) and talked about:
- Panthera pardus tulliana (Leopard of Anatolia)
- Panthera pardus ciscaucasica (Leopard of the Caucasus)
- Panthera pardus sindica (Baluchistan leopard)
- Panthera pardus dathei (Leopard of Central Persia)
- Panthera pardus jarvisi (Leopard of Sinai)
Finally, there are also interspecific hybrids leopard-lion, or leopard-puma (leopuma) obtained in captivity, in the context of zoos.
The differences, which focus on the size, composition and coloring of the coat, are often not very evident, and the debate is still ongoing.
The international body in charge of zoological taxonomy (ICZN) seems to be leaning towards the classification in the nine main breeds, mentioned above.
Let's say immediately that the speech on the leopard's melanism, induced by a mutation in a recessive gene, has been widely developed in the Panthera onca sheet, remembering that the frequency of melanism is higher in the jaguars (mutation in a gene dominant) that in leopards, and that they are generally endemic specimens of forest biotopes.
We add that the leopard has a more important population density in Africa than in Asia, where intense deforestation makes it more difficult to stay every day. The relationship between man and leopard has a deep bond.
Since the last century, leopards have been bred to hunt large animals, such as the Buffalo buffalo (Syncerus caffer), the Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) or even Elephants (Loxodonta africana is Elephas maximus), not because they are able to kill them, but to flush them out, given their incredible sense of smell, hearing, and perfect night vision.
In fact, both in Africa and in Asia, there have been attempts to attack by a Panthera pardus against hippos, buffalos and elephants, dependent on situations of food shortage so marked and prolonged, to push them to risk.
In addition, on an ethnological level, some African tribes, in particular from Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, idolize this animal to the point of making it a symbol. Thus we speak of "leopard men", real sects of warriors, such as "lion men", "baboon men" and "hippopotamus men". Less fortunate than the jaguar, the leopard has a large number of enemies in the environment in which it lives. Large animals such as hippos, elephants, buffaloes or rhinos, which had the imprudence to attack, and predators such as lions, hyenas, wild dogs, crocodiles and tigers.
Leopards are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, with higher density in the equatorial belt, and continental Asia with annexed islands such as Java and Sonda, but they can also be found sporadically in the Saharan desert, in the highlands of the Moroccan Atlas and in desert areas of Tunisia and Algeria. They have also been spotted in Asia Minor, Turkey, Korea and Manchuria. The black panther finds its maximum density in the tropical forests of Java.
These animals have such a plastic physiology and food ecology that they can live in almost all possible biotopic-ecosystem combinations.
They can be found in the evergreen tropical rain forests, in the desert areas, in the stony and rocky regions, in the swampy areas, along waterways, in snowy regions, plains and savannas up to reach several thousand meters above the sea level.
It is found in the bush and generally in the African and Asian wooded areas.
Like the jaguar, the leopard spends most of its day on a tree, lying among the branches, where it often rests and drags the leftovers of its prey, to feed itself calmly when hungry.
Preferably hunt on the ground antelopes, gazelles, impalas, and other small herbivores, but when food resources are scarce, look for small prey on trees such as squirrels and birds, but also large apes such as the Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), and can prey on rivers, gharials, fish, amphibians, and waterfowl.
Leopards swim well, but they love the water much less than the jaguar and the tiger. Unlike these, they almost never chase prey that flee within a stream.
A curiosity. The leopard is one of the few carnivores in the African savannah that has the courage to attack and kill a Porcupine (Hystrix cristata). Even lions prefer to avoid it because of the huge spines.
And they are not wrong, because the poor leopard, after the meal, often finds himself covered with quills. Some come off, but others can creep into the flesh of the moving animal. They also penetrate 3 cm per day and when they reach a vital organ, such as the heart and liver, the leopard is passed off. So in a way, the porcupine takes revenge.
The height at the withers of the leopards is about 70 cm. The male can reach 190 cm in length and the female 140 cm, including the tails, which easily reach 70 cm and serve to balance on the branches of trees. An average male weighs 60-70 kg, the female weighs 40-50 kg. In nature they live on average 12 years; in captivity, where they reproduce very well, even 23.
In the first meal, they devour about 5 kg of the killed prey. Then they carry the carcass on a tree, to prevent lions, wild dogs, tigers and hyenas from stealing it. They eat it even when the meat is rotting and they do not disdain the scraps abandoned by other predators. They are therefore real scavengers.
The coat is yellowish, with numerous black, round and full spots. They are digitigrade, have retractable claws and walk silently on the bearings, surprising their prey. Like all cats, they have an excellent sense of smell, a vision adapted to the dark and a very fine hearing. Although less robust than a jaguar or lion, leopards are still very strong. Just think that with their powerful jaw they can transport prey much heavier than they are, like an antelope, for example, at several meters in height.
Antelopes and gazelles are their main course. They pursue them, or they swoop from above to the loins, to then suffocate them with a bite to the throat. They immediately feed on the liver, heart and thighs, putting what is left in store. They prefer night hunting, but it is not uncommon to see them preying even during the day.
Leopards are solitary animals, like the tiger and the jaguar. They live in areas with a size of 5-25 square km, with marked borders with repeated urinations and characteristic scratches on the trunks of trees. They may roar, but their verse is less powerful than that of a lion. Therefore, unlike the king of the savannah, they do not use vocal signals to delimit the territory.
If a male transits quickly into that of a conspecific, he is not attacked, but when the permanence continues, the fight is inevitable. Generally, the males immediately approach the females in estrus. The vagina and anus smell it, taste the urine to perceive its receptivity and establish the state of health, after which the coupling takes over which, as happens for the lion, the jaguar and the tiger, consists of short sequential intercourse.
After mating, the male stays a few days with the female, and then leaves her. The female gives birth and raises the puppies alone.
It has a zonal structure endotheliocorental placenta, it has polygemic parts, giving birth to one to six puppies.
The small underweight, which do not exceed 500 g at birth, are left to die by the mother. He does not breastfeed them, applying a sort of eugenic selection, extremely sad! Usually 1-2 puppies survive at birth.
The female watches them lovingly, nursing them for about three months. When he goes looking for food, to feed and produce milk, he leaves them hidden in a den.
Towards the third month, weaning begins. Even if they already know how to walk a few days after birth, it is only then that he takes them on hunting trips. They must observe and learn as soon as possible how to get food and defend themselves.
At eight months they are already able to kill small herbivores, squirrels, small antelopes and reptiles.
In the presence of a pack of hyenas or wild dogs, a mother with two cubs, however strong and beating, almost always manages to save only one, taking him away by the scruff.
The puppies live with their mother for about a year and a half, then begin their independent lives. The mother, entering into estrus, is able to mate again, while during the breeding of the offspring she is refractory from the reproductive point of view.
With such a varied diet, preferably antelopes and gazelles, but also monkeys, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds, leopards are classified among the Euriphages.
This great ability to adapt to food, compared to other cats and animals, has made them more resistant to the decrease in population and therefore to the danger of extinction. But in certain areas, especially the Asian ones, the leopard has to deal with deforestation which at the same time reduces its range or home-range, not to mention the number of prey (herbivores, ungulates, reptiles, birds) in continuous decrease. The stress is such that both melanic and wild-type specimens, like the various endemic breeds of those biotopes, are present in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.