After tigers, lions and jaguars, the leopard is the fourth largest cat in the world. It can grow to more than 6 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds. Few other cats are as varied in appearance as the leopard. Coat colors range from pale yellow to bright chestnut, with square and circular black spots. Some leopards are solid black as a result of melanism, an increased amount of black pigmentation. These are known as black panthers.
Leopards live in grasslands and forests throughout Africa, but they can adapt to many different landscapes. Not only are they agile swimmers, but they are the strongest climbers among the large cats. The leopard is extremely elusive and is often mistaken for other large cats such as the jaguar or the cheetah.
Nocturnal by nature, each leopard has a home range that it stealthily patrols at night, marking it with urine and claw marks. Because they are solitary animals, leopards typically avoid one another. However, since territories often overlap, they announce their presence to one another with a raspy growl.
The leopard hunts a wide variety of animals - including monkeys, rodents, reptiles, birds, fish and antelopes - and it is capable of killing animals much larger than itself. In short bursts, the leopard can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, and it can jump up to 10 feet high.
Because the leopard is solitary, animals that kill in groups like hyenas and lions often steal recently killed prey from a single leopard. To avoid this, leopards store their larger kills high in the trees so they can feed on them in safety.
The largest threats to the leopard population are habitat loss and humans who illegally hunt it for its fur. The leopard's ability to adapt to multiple landscapes - from rainforest to desert terrain - has helped it survive the threat of decreasing habitat better than many other large cats.May 07, 2012