Revealing the Leopard
Leopards are Best at Going the Distance

Leopards are survivors. Despite a changing world, the leopard has been able to maintain a surprisingly large population, especially in comparison to other big cats. While nobody knows the exact number of leopards currently on the planet, it’s estimated that there are roughly half a million — ten times more than lions, tigers, and cheetahs combined. The majority are found in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa, most likely where the modern-day leopard originated hundreds of thousands of years ago — but they are also widespread, covering much of Africa, the Middle East, as well as eastern and southern Asia. They have settled in terrains that range from tropical rainforests and deserts, to alpine mountains and the outskirts of cities. Of the big cats, the leopard is the only known species that lives in both desert and rainforest environments.

What makes the leopard so successful? They are not as fast as cheetahs, nor as strong as lions. But the leopard is adaptable, able to acclimate and modify its habits to thrive in its current environment. As the natural landscape shifts, so does the leopard, adjusting to the new world that surrounds it.

Physical characteristics of leopard populations like fur color and fur length vary depending on location. A leopard living in the savanna will have orange or yellow fur while a desert leopard’s fur is paler. Leopards that live in cooler climates tend to be longer-haired and more gray in color; rainforest leopards are more golden. A recessive gene can result in melanistic (black) leopards, as similar genes produce red hair in humans. These leopards are relatively few in number and are primarily found in tropical environments like the forests of Northeast China where there is more cover, and they can better blend with their surroundings. These differences enable leopards to live successfully in a range of environments.

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While the leopard is resilient and adaptable, its population has recently suffered a decline, primarily attributed to human-leopard conflicts. The leopard’s valuable fur makes it vulnerable to poachers and hunters. Urban expansion has resulted in substantial habitat loss, a decrease in food sources, and aggression from communities that kill leopards to protect their livestock. The number of sightings of leopards near and around villages has continued to rise as their natural habitats and food sources shrink related to development. There have been sightings in developed areas of India, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, China, Saudi Arabia, even the United Kingdom. In a study conducted by the WWF in Pakistan, between 2005 and 2007, the majority of leopard sightings – 97 out of 125 – were in and around the small group of villages that were being monitored. Generally leopards do not harm humans, but there have been cases of leopards attacking people. In 2004, fourteen people in Mumbai were reported to have been killed in attacks. Ongoing efforts are focused on educating affected communities to minimize leopard-human conflicts and to conserve natural habitats to deter leopards from moving into urban areas.

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) describes the leopard as “Near Threatened” on their Red List of Threatened Species. While leopards as a whole are not considered endangered, populations of certain leopard subspecies are less secure.

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  • Justin

    Awesome! I love leotards!

  • Jessica

    Could have sworn I saw a leopard in my backyard last weekend but upon close examination of your map, looks like maybe it was the tabby from next door.

  • To justin

    you love leotards? um i think leotard are something like uh tights , not cats

  • Ho Sai Yuen

    The leopard is an illusive and secretive big cat. Its spotted coat, well camouflaged. would help the animal from bigger predators. In Africa, in particular, the leopard is wide spread and occasionally due to the lost of its incisive (front fangs) teeth, it cannot hunt its normal prey and either it would starve to death or be compelled to wander into an African thatched hut and seize a baby in the unguarded moment!
    African leopard is capable of dragging its heavy prey up an Acacia tree so that its enemies which are many, like lions and hyneas, would not be able to steal its prey. In India, the leopard are found all over the states and even in the snow fields of Himalaya – the legendary snow leopard which is bigger than its cousins in Africa and Asia. However, in India the leopard has often turned into a deadly man-eater. Many reports of man-eating leopards appear in the India media. The famous man-eater written by Jim Corbett called “Man-eating Leopard of Rudaprayag took more than 200 humans – illusive and consquently shot by the writer.
    The trouble-some leopard often frequent in and around Bollywood and reportedly seize people as food! However, there is one animal protector at Bollywood which traps the leopard with a village dog as a bait. Then it is conveyed into jungle and released…! On the whole, the leopard is getting scare and should be conserved with strict legislation.

  • Mike

    Amazing animals. For some reason (lack of education), I thought pumas/cougars were of the same genus. Thank you, graphic!

  • Tom

    how many leopards are left in the world ? if WWF see this can they please Email me please

  • Joe king

    So there are a fair few more than 35 leopards cheers there is a certain wildlife trust advertising that, this is exactly why I don’t give any money to charity tell people bare faced lies, in my opinion.

  • Bonny G.

    Mike, the scientific name of the puma is Puma concolor, it used to be Felis concolor. Cougar, mountain lion, catamount and panther are common names for the same big cat: Puma concolor.Leopards belong to the Panthera genus, pardus, species. All cats belong to the Felidae family.

    Joe King, it is up to you to verify the facts, but reputable charities like Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, and Snow Leopard Trust do so much to carry out research and run interference with governments not interested in enforcing laws already on the books, or writing new legislation to protect wildlife. Unfortunately, the natural world is under severe assault from mankind, even more so if that animal is a predator. In the United States in 2010, only 2% of charitable giving was for wildlife and the environment. Rather shameful, I think, after all our lifestyle does to harm both.

    Leopard populations were doing well, until the Chinese “medicine” aka. myth had decimated the wild tiger population so severely. Since leopard or African lion bones cannot be distinguished from tiger bones (scientifically, yes) they are now being hunted to the edge.

    The biggest problem for big cats is human overpopulation. They are not only being killed outright, but squeezed out of their habitat,

  • edriyas beyene

    Hi i am edriyas i am 14 years old and i want to become a filmmaker for nature but i dont know what steps to take to accomplish my goal and i wll be happy if some one can tell me how i can do that.

  • Oksana

    Thank You to the staff of Nature and PBS and all the committed wildlife researchers around the world for their unwavering commitment to educate the public with the facts and conditions that the species threatened with extinction face in our world today. Clearly human overpopulation and the consequent encroachment onto these animals habitat will be an ongoing issue. I feel that I and my family have had the good fortune to see these animals before they go extinct. I cannot say the same for my grand grand children and their progeny. Human greed and human disregard for our environment and the fellow creatures that share this planet with us seems to insure the demise of the most majestic of our fellow creatures. I pray for miracles that will bring the human population to valuing the preservation of their existence. It will be a very dark day for our earth should they vanished. Animal wildlife funds deserve our full support.

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