The Leopard is a striking looking feline. One of the Big Cats, the Leopard
with its golden yellow coat marked with rosettes, is a compact hunting machine.
Leopards are also called Panthers and the rare Black Panther, a leopard
with a completely black coat, is also seen in India. Black Panthers have
been immortalized as Bagheera the Black Panther in Rudyard Kipling's well
loved children's classic The Jungle Book.
Leopards are found in densely forested areas of India including
many National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Across the world, leopards
have the widest distribution of any of the Big Cats and are found in Africa,
Asia Minor and the Middle East, across south East Asia, including Sri
Lanka and Java and further North in China and Russia.
It is estimated that there are around 14,000
leopards in India. Worldwide the population of leopards is estimated to
be around 100,000 with the majority of leopards found in Africa.
Leopards grow to be 5 to 8 feet long
and can weigh from 60 to 210 pounds. The leopard has a compact body covered
with rosette shaped marks and a thick tail. The coat of a leopard can
vary in color from yellow to reddish brown. In South Asia Black Panthers
are often seen. The coat of the panther is completely black due a genetic
difference. Often some of cubs in one litter can be all lack while others
have the normal color of leopards. The white tip of the leopards tail
is held upright by mother leopards while walking through dense undergrowth.
This helps to guide their cubs and ensure that they follow her.
Leopards are found in thick forests, mountainous terrain,
open grasslands and even in dry scrub jungle. Leopards can adapt to varied
environments and this has helped it survive where many other Big Cats
have been severely affected by habitat destruction. Leopards prefer forest
boundary areas, where they can observe their prey from the trees and emerge
for the kill, only to retreat with their prey back to the safety of the
Leopards are carnivores and hunt for prey. They eat anything
from large insects and rodents to wild boar, wild fowl, and the young
of buffalo, Gaur and - in areas of human encroachment - domestic cattle
and dogs. Their strength and agility allow Leopards to drag their prey
up into the trees and keep it safe from scavengers. Leopards therefore
are more successful predators than Cheetahs, with whom they share a habitat
in parts of Africa, since Cheetahs often lose their prey to scavengers
such as Lions or Hyenas.
Leopards are solitary carnivores. A breeding pair may be
seen together briefly. The mother leopard brings up cubs on her own. Cubs
remain with their mother for up to two years after which they are old enough
to fend for themselves. Leopards can live for up to 20 years in the wild.
In zoos leopards have been known to live for over 25 years. Leopards have
been known to turn man-eater as a result of injury that prevents them from
hunting or old age. A famous example is the Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag,
which was shot by the hunter and naturalist Jim Corbett, after whom the
Corbett National Park is named.