Beauty Of Animal | Leopard | The leopard, Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China.
The species' success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic hunting behavior, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), its unequaled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains.
Physical characteristics Leopards are agile and stealthy predators. Although smaller than other members of the Panthera genus, they are able to take large prey due to their massive skulls that facilitate powerful jaw muscles. Head and body length is between 95 and 165 cm (37 and 65 in), and the tail reaches 60 to 110 cm (24 to 43 in). Shoulder height is 45 to 80 cm (18 to 31 in). The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhance their ability to climb trees. They are very diverse in size. Males are about 30% larger than females, weighing 30 to 91 kg (66 to 200 lb) compared to 23 to 60 kg (51 to 130 lb) for females. Large males of up to 91 kg (200 lb) have been documented in Kruger National Park in South Africa; however, males in the South Africa's coastal mountains average 31 kg (68 lb) and the females from the desert-edge in Somalia average 23 to 27 kg (51 to 60 lb).
Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Felidae Genus: Panthera Species: P. pardus
Taxonomy and evolution
Like all of the feline family, the Panthera genus has been subject to much alteration and debate, and the exact relations between the four species as well as the clouded leopard and snow leopard have not been effectively resolved. Carl Linnaeus placed leopards under the genus Felis as the binominal Felis pardus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most naturalists and taxonomists followed his example. In 1816, Lorenz Oken proposed a definition of the genus Panthera, with a subgenus Panthera using Linnaeus’ Felis pardus as a type specimen. But most disagreed with his definition, and until the beginning of the 20th century continued using Felis or Leopardus when describing leopard subspecies. In 1916, Reginald Innes Pocock accorded Panthera generic rank defining Panthera pardus as species.
It is believed that the basal divergence amongst the Felidae family occurred about 11 million years ago. The last common ancestor of the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard is believed to have occurred about 6.37 million years ago. Panthera is believed to have emerged in Asia, with ancestors of the leopard and other cats subsequently migrating into Africa. The researchers suggest that the snow leopard is most closely aligned with the tiger, whereas the leopard possibly has diverged from the Panthera lineage subsequent to these two species, but before the lion and jaguar. Fossils of early leopard ancestors have been found in East Africa and South Asia from the Pleistocene of 2 to 3.5 Ma. The modern leopard is suggested to have evolved in Africa 470,000–825,000 years ago and radiated across Asia 170,000–300,000 years ago.
Distribution and habitat Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring widely in eastern and central Africa, although populations have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Within sub-Saharan Africa, the species is still numerous and even thriving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared. But populations in North Africa may be extinct. Leopards live mainly in grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests. They are usually associated with savanna and rainforest, but leopards are exceptionally adaptable: in the Russian Far East, they inhabit temperate forests where winter temperatures reach a low of −25 °C (−13 °F).
Ecology and behavior
Leopards are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. They have primarily been studied in open savanna habitats, which may have biased common descriptions. Activity level varies depending on the habitat and the type of prey that they hunt. Radio-tracking and scat analysis in West Africa showed that rainforest leopards are more likely to be diurnal and crepuscular. Forest leopards are also more specialized in prey selection and exhibit seasonal differences in activity patterns.
Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although not as strong as some other big cats, such as the tiger. They are very agile, and can run at over 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), leap over 6 metres (20 ft) horizontally, and jump up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) vertically. They produce a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and "sawing" sounds.
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