Their habitat

The geographical distribution of Panthera pardus extends from the whole of the African continent south of the Sahara and along the North African coast, to the Arabian Peninsula, to the Middle East, to South and South-East Asia up to the Amur Valley in the Russian Far East. Leopards inhabit semi-deserts and savannahs, but also live in coniferous forests in moderate regions, subtropical deciduous forests and grasslands as well as in tropical rainforests, with the exception of Sumatra and Borneo. Since the late 1770s zoologists have described 12 subspecies in Africa and 16 subspecies in Asia and the Middle East. Melanistic leopards, also called Black Panther, are apparently found mainly within populations inhabiting densely forested areas.

Leopards live in habitats where they find sufficient cover to hide and stalk their prey. But also in relatively open country they make use of shrubs, grass-tufts and small indentations to stalk their prey over quite long distances while crouching close to the ground. Their skill of taking full advantage of even the slightest cover is an important prerequisite for their wide distribution over different territories.

Bhagya in a mango tree The marking and colouring of their coat gives them an excellent camouflage. Rudyard Kipling writes in his story "How the Leopard Got its Spots":
You are a beauty! …
You can lie on the bare ground and look like a heap of pebbles. …
You can lie out on a leafy branch and look like sunshine sifting through the leaves.
And you can lie right across the center of a path and look like nothing in particular.

Photo © by Angie Appel

Like most cats leopards hunt solitary. The size of their home range is extremely variable and essentially depends on the amount and distribution of prey available there. In Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park the number of ungulates per square kilometer is so high that their total weight approximates 2.7 tonnes in this area. In this type of habitat with very high prey density, female leopards roam through areas between 6 and 13 sqkm. In the East African Serengeti and Tsavo National Parks their territories range between 11 and 121 sqkm. But in the South African Stellenbosch Mountains, in the Kalahari and in the East Russian Sikhote Alin Mountains, male leopards hunt in territories that are sometimes larger than 400 sqkm.

The territories of male leopards encompass those of several females, whereas those of females in general exclude each other and overlap only little. Leopards visit most parts of their ranges at regular intervals leaving olfactory and visual signals at conspicious places along trails and boundaries. By scent-marking and scraping they convey information about their residential status, condition and identity long after they have left the spot.

Leopards prefer hunting ungulates with a body weight of 20 to 50 kg. They kill calves and smaller yearlings of large deer species, but also pursue small hog deer, antelope of all ages and wild boar, as well as goats, sheep and calves of domesticated buffalo and cattle. Their hunting strategies are so flexible and diverse that in areas with low prey density they also charge porcupine, pangolin, pea fowl and jungle fowl, monkeys in trees and stray dogs in the vicinity of villages.

In the Kalahari they also prey upon spring hares, wart hogs, bat-eared foxes, jackals and wolverines.

The behaviour of leopards in Africa's wilderness is presented in the following account.