Indian leopard is one of the 8-9 valid leopard subspecies found throughout the world. Known by the scientific name of Panthera pardus, it is the fourth largest of the four 'big cats' of the Panthera genus. At the same time, leopards are also the fifth largest of all cat species. The name 'Leopard' has been derived from a combination of two Greek and Latin words leo and pard, 'leo' meaning lion and 'pard' meaning panther. This name was given to the animal since it was initially believed to be crossbreed of a lion and a panther.
As far as the length of the Indian leopard is concerned, it may be
anywhere between one meters and two meters. Their average weight hovers
somewhere around 30 kg and 70 kg (65 lbs to 155 lbs). Leopards have a
heavy and sturdy body and their head is larger in proportion to their
body. The coat of a leopard is covered with rosettes and they can climb
trees with effortless ease. The cubs of a leopard have longer and
thicker fur than the adults and even their pelage is grayer.
Indian leopards are nocturnal creatures and are considered to be one of
the most surreptitious animals. They can easily make themselves
undetected, even while living proximate to human settlements. Leopards
are very good swimmers, but lead a solitary life. Occasionally, one can
find them roaming in a group of 3 to 4 animals. They have an acute sense
of hearing, along with sharp eyesight.
Leopards are carnivores and eat almost every animal, ranging from
monkeys to reptiles to fish. Infact, it is believed that they hunt from
amongst 90 species of animals. Injured, sickly or struggling leopards,
with a shortage of prey, may even hunt humans.
The mating season of leopards depends upon the areas they inhabit. For
example, the leopards of India mate throughout the year while those in
Siberia mate from January to February. Their estrous cycle lasts about
46 days and the female usually remains in heat for 6-7 days. They give
birth to 2-3 cubs at a time, out of which 1 or 2 survive in most of the
cases. Three months after being born, the cubs start joining their
mother in hunts and live with her for the next 18 to 24 months.
Till some centuries back, leopards used to roam around in almost all
parts of Africa and southern Asia. However, today, their habitat has
been reduced to Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Minor, the Middle East, India,
Pakistan, China, Siberia, much of mainland South-East Asia and the
islands of Java and Sri Lanka.
Current Status and Threats
The worldwide population of leopards is considered to be around 50,000.
Nevertheless, the population of the 'Big Cat' has been decreasing at
quite a rapid pace in all the countries, including India. The major
reasons for this are their large-scale poaching as well as destruction
of their natural habitat by humans. The subspecies that have been
declared as endangered are Amur, Anatolian, Barbary, North Chinese and
South Arabian Leopards.
Even though it is said that there are over 30 species of leopard, so
far, only 8-9 have been found to valid. These are: