Scientific Name : Panthera pardus
Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent. The Leopard is a medium-sized is a member of the “Big Cat” family, the Leopard is an agile and opportunistic hunter that has been able to exploit habitats unused by other large felines as it spends a great deal of its time high in the tree branches.
The Leopard has a long and slender body that is supported by short, stocky legs and a long tail that is used to aid balance whilst in the trees. Leopards can vary greatly in their colouration and markings depending on their surrounding habitat, with those found on open grasslands having a light yellow background coat where those that are found in forests tend to be darker in colour and with more markings. The dark, ring-like patterns that cover the Leopard’s coat are called rosettes, but these turn to solid spots on the face and limbs (and rings on the tail) and provide the Leopard with camouflage into the surrounding environment.
Leopards are incredibly strong and muscular and are able to pull themselves up trees using their legs and retractable claws. Like a number of other large feline species, the Leopard is able to draw their claws into folds of skin on their paws to ensure that they are not blunted whilst the animal is walking about. Their keen hearing and sight coupled with their long and very sensitive whiskers, means that Leopards are also incredibly well adapted for hunting under the cover of night.
The Leopard can be found inhabiting numerous different areas providing that there is a good source of cover and an ample supply of food including tropical rain forests, tree-lined Savannah, barren deserts and mountain highlands.
The Leopard is a solitary and nocturnal hunter that hunts both on the ground and in the trees. They are excellent climbers and spend the vast majority of the daytime hours resting in the shade of the branches in the trees or under a sheltered rock. They are quite unique amongst large felines as Leopards rely heavily on being able to get close enough to their prey before ambushing it, rather than expelling vast amounts of energy in a high-speed chase.
Throughout their natural range, Leopards have no distinctive breeding season with females instead being able to reproduce every couple of months. After a gestation period that lasts for around three months, the female Leopard gives birth to between 2 and 6 cubs that are born blind and weigh just half a kilo. Leopard cubs are incredibly vulnerable in the wild and so remain hidden in dense vegetation until they are able to follow their mother around at between 6 and 8 weeks of age, camouflaged by their dark, woolly fur and blurry spots.
Hunting of Indian leopards for the illegal wildlife trade is the biggest threat to their survival. They are also threatened by loss and fragmentation of habitat and various levels of human–leopard conflict in human–dominated landscapes. A significant immediate threat to wild leopard populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal and China.
Expansion of agriculturally used land, encroachment of humans and their livestock into protected areas are main factors contributing to habitat loss and decrease of wild prey. As a result, leopards approach human settlements, where they are tempted to prey on dogs, pigs and goats — domestic livestock, which constitutes an important part of their diet, if they live on the periphery of human habitations. Human–leopard conflict situations ensue, and have increased in recent years. In retaliation for attacks on livestock, leopards are shot, poisoned and trapped in snares.
Despite their adaptability to differing surroundings, Leopard populations in parts of their natural range are declining due to both habitat loss to the timber industry and agriculture, and hunting by Humans as trophies and for their meat and fur.
Today, the Leopard is listed by the IUCN as being an animal that is Near Threatened.