It is a common misconception that leopards are solely an African animal, but these big cats can be found throughout the world. They are found in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, Southwest Asia, the Himalayan foothills, Russia, India, and China. Leopards are very adaptable; they can live in various environments such as rainforests, deserts, grassland savannas, mountains, and so much more. Leopards have the broadest range of any other big cat species.
Leopards are pound for pound the strongest of the big cats. They are astounding climbers; they can carry prey twice their size up a tree. Leopards are silent and stealthy, which makes them the ultimate predator.
During the day, leopards rest in the treetops. Their spotted coats make them well camouflaged within the leaves. This is where they keep a keen eye on any prey that may wander below. Leopards are not picky eaters; they will eat almost any animal that crosses their path. Leopards will use the ambush method to capture their prey; they will crouch low to the ground sneaking up on their game, and then pounce before the prey animal can react. They then catch their kill using powerful jaw muscles to exert a lethal hold. While running, Leopards can reach 36 mph speeds and can leap upwards of 10 feet up in the air. They are also powerful swimmers.
Leopards are the smallest of the big cat species. They are solitary animals and very territorial. Adult leopards will only be seen with one another during the mating season. Female leopards are known to keep interacting with their cubs after weening and have also been observed sharing kills with their offspring if they are having a hard time capturing prey of their own. Aggressive encounters between leopards are rare, typically only occurring when defending territories from intruders.
Leopards communicate with one another by using the white spots on the top of their ears and tails in the tall grass. They also use many different vocalizations such as growls, snarls, meows, and purrs. A long sequence of roars or grunts from a leopard is known as “sawing,” This sound is similar to sawing wood. Sawing is a call that allows territorial neighbors to stay out of each other’s way, and also will enable males and females to find each other.
In Southeast Asia’s dark rain forests, some leopards are nearly black. They might look solid black, but in direct sunlight, you would be able to see their spotted pattern. These black leopards are nicknamed “black panthers,” although a panther is an entirely different species. Some people believe that black leopards are more aggressive and dangerous than their lighter-colored kin, but their behavior is the same. Black leopards are melanistic, which is a color variant caused by a recessive allele.
Although leopards are beautiful animals, they are best admired from afar. Several leopards living in captivity in the United States have unfortunately been victims of the cub petting industry and private ownership. These wild animals are predators, not pets.