status: Endangered, ESA Threatened, ESA (parts of Africa)
range: Africa (south of the Sahara Desert), southeastern Asia
Description and biology
A large member of the cat family, the leopard is known for its light to tawny brown coat patterned with black spots and rosettes, or rings. Unlike those of the jaguar, the rosettes of the leopard never have spots inside them. Some leopards are born with a black coat that still has the characteristic spotting. Found mainly in southern Asia, these cats are commonly (but incorrectly) called black panthers. An average leopard has a head and body length of 38 to 75 inches (97 to 191 centimeters) and weighs 65 to 155 pounds (30 to 70 kilograms). Its tail can reach a length of up to 3 feet (1 meter).
Leopards are solitary mammals that hunt primarily at night. Their diet includes monkeys and other small mammals, birds, rodents, and insects. Good climbers, leopards often store their dead prey in trees. They cover a home range of about 4 to 20 square miles (10 to 51 square kilometers) in search of food.
Male and female leopards come together only to mate, which can occur at any time during the year. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 90 to 105 days, a female leopard gives birth to a litter of three to five cubs. She alone cares for the cubs, hiding them until they are six to eight weeks old. The young leopards nurse for several months and may stay with the mother for 18 to 20 months.
Habitat and current distribution
Leopards have the ability to adapt to almost any environment. As long as prey is available, these cats inhabit areas ranging from semidesert to dense rain forest. They are found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert and in southeastern Asia.
Leopards are considered endangered throughout their range. The only exception is the region south of the African countries of Gabon, Congo, Congo Republic, Uganda, and Kenya. Because leopards are more numerous here, they are considered only threatened.
History and conservation measures
Like most spotted cats, the leopard has been a victim of the fur trade. Although global treaties protect the leopard, poachers still hunt the animal to sell on the international market. In Africa, it is legal to hunt leopards for sport.
Contact between humans and leopards has not favored the animals. As more and more of their habitat has been converted to farm and ranch land, leopards have been forced to prey on domestic livestock. In response, farmers and ranchers have actively sought to poison the animals.
Leopards have protection only in national parks, where they are considered a tourist attraction.
LEOPARD (Heb. נָמֵר, namer), the strongest carnivorous animal in the Middle East. The leopard has a spotted coat, this being the meaning of its Hebrew name (Jer. 13:23). It is not to be confused with the tiger which, besides being striped, did not inhabit Ereẓ Israel (it is mentioned in Hul. 59b). Belonging to the feline family, the leopard, Felis pardus tullianus (= Pantherapardus), has a body which, excluding the tail, is 120–150 cm. (c. 4–5 ft.) long and a yellowish-fawn coat with black spots. Its bodily structure, with its short forelegs and extremely powerful hindlegs, is especially suited to lying in wait, this habit being referred to in the Bible (Hos. 13:7; cf. Jer. 5:6). In Isaiah's vision of the messianic age, in which he depicts the amity that will exist between the carnivorous animals and their prey, he declares that "the leopard shall lie down with the kid," the latter being the usual prey of the leopard, as the lamb is of the wolf and the calf of the young lion (Isa. 11:6). The leopard's speed and agility are stressed in the Bible (Hab. 1:8), while its strength is referred to in the Mishnah (Avot 5:20): "Be strong as a leopard, swift as an eagle, fleet as a gazelle, and brave as a lion to do the will of your Father in heaven," an aphorism that was illustrated in paintings and engravings in synagogues. In recent years leopards, like other wild animals, have decreased in the Middle East. Occasionally individual or pairs of leopards come down from the Lebanese mountains to Upper Galilee (cf. Song 4:8). In the neighborhood of En-Gedi a family of leopards was killed in the 1960s, and in the Arabah some members of the leopard family were hunted. The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), which is called bardelas in the Mishnah, is enumerated alongside the leopard among the carnivorous animals (bk 1:4). It is apparently included in the Bible under the term namer on account of its spotted coat, although in fact its bodily structure differs from that of the leopard, the cheetah having a small head and long legs which enable it to pursue its prey.
Lewysohn, Zool, 71f., no. 116; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960), 20–22, 26, 43; J. Feliks, The Animal World of the Bible (1962), 33. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 253.
leop·ard / ˈlepərd/ • n. a large, solitary cat (Panthera pardus) that has a fawn or brown coat with black spots and usually hunts at night, widespread in the forests of Africa and southern Asia. Also called panther. ∎ Heraldry the spotted leopard as a heraldic device; also, a lion passant guardant as in the arms of England. ∎ [as adj.] spotted like a leopard.
the leopard does not change his spots a person cannot change their essential nature; originally with biblical allusion to Jeremiah 13:23, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?’ The saying is recorded in English from the mid 16th century.