Wild Leopard (Panthera pardus) - Yala, Sri Lanka
Canon 300mm F2.8 L IS
Evaluative Metering +2/3
Text adapted from - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopard
The leopard 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. Once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, the leopard's 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 Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a "Near Threatened" species by the IUCN.
Compared to other members of the Felidae family, the leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It is similar in appearance to the jaguar, but is smaller and more slightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the jaguar, but the leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed, and do not usually have central spots as the jaguar's do. Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic (completely black or very dark) are known as black panthers.
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 it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains.
In antiquity, it was believed that a leopard was a hybrid of a lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name which is a Greek compound of ???? le?n ("lion") and ?????? pardos ("male panther").
A panther can be any of several species of large felid: the term can refers to cougars and jaguars in the American continents; and everywhere else, to leopards.
Panthera is believed to have emerged in Asia, with ancestors of the leopard and other cats subsequently migrating into Africa.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.
The subspecies recognised by Uphyrina et al. are:
* African leopard (P. p. pardus), Sub-Saharan Africa.
* Amur leopard (P. p. orientalis), Russian Far East, Korean Peninsula, and Northeast China.
* Arabian leopard (P. p. nimr), Arabian Peninsula.
* Indian leopard (P. p. fusca), Indian Subcontinent.
* Indo-Chinese leopard (P. p. delacouri), Mainland Southeast Asia.
* Javan leopard (P. p. melas), Java, Indonesia.
* North Chinese leopard (P. p. japonensis), Northern China.
* Persian leopard (P. p. saxicolor), Central Asia.
* Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya), Sri Lanka.
The leopard is an agile and stealthy predator. Although smaller than the other members of the Panthera genus, the leopard is still able to take large prey given its massive skull that well utilizes powerful jaw muscles.
Leopards show a great diversity 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 have been documented in Kruger National park in South Africa; however, males in the South Africa's coastal mountains average a much smaller 31 kg. This wide variation in size is thought to result from the quality and availability of prey found in each habitat. Smaller sized leopards also are known in the deserts of the Middle East. Sri Lankka is famous for the generally large size of its Leopards where they are more easily seen than other parts of the world and being the top predator are much less reclusive.
The leopard is known for its ability in climbing, and it has been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging its kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. It is a powerful swimmer, although not as strong as some other big cats, such as the tiger.
Leopards are generally considered to be nocturnal; however, the animal has primarily been studied in open savannah habitats, which may have biased common descriptions. Activity level may vary depending on the habitat and the type of prey it hunts. For instance, radio-tracking and scat analysis in West Africa has found 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 versatile, opportunistic hunters. In the open savannah, they are most successful when hunting between sunset and sunrise, though they may hunt during the day, especially in forest areas when they have the advantage of being hidden by dense brush or cloudy skies.The leopard stalks its prey silently and at the last minute pounces on its prey and strangles its throat with a quick bite. Leopards often hide their kills in dense vegetation or take them up trees, and are capable of carrying animals up to three times their own weight this way. The leopard is the only big cat known to carry its prey up into a tree.
Leopards have relatively flexible dietary needs and generally feed on a greater diversity of prey compared to other members of the Panthera species.Although mid-sized animals are preferred, the leopard will eat anything from dung beetles to 900 kg (1,984 lb) male giant elands. Their diet consists mostly of ungulates and monkeys, but rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds and fish are also eaten.
Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round (Asia and Africa) or seasonally during January and February (Manchuria and Siberia). The estrous cycle lasts about 46 days and the female usually is in heat for 6–7 days. Gestation lasts for 90–105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of 2–4 cubs, but usually no more than 1–2 cubs survive their first year as the infant mortality rate is between 40 to 50 percent.
Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth.The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also more gray in color with less defined spots. Around three months the infants begin to follow the mother out on hunts. At one year of age leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but they remain with the mother for 18–24 months.
Leopards have been known to humans since prehistory and have featured in the art, mythology and folklore of many countries where they have historically occurred, such as ancient Greece, Persia and Rome, as well as some where they have not existed for several millennia, such as England.