The Unlikely Leopard Facts

Video highlights from The Unlikely Leopard


  • The leopard is highly adaptable to almost any type of habitat that provides it sufficient food and cover.  Across the world, leopards have the widest distribution of any of the big predator cats and are found in the savannas, woodlands and forests of Africa and the Middle East, through India and southeast Asia, and north into China and Russia.
  • The leopard is strong and agile and uses its long tail for balance.  It may weigh anywhere from 60 to 200 lbs and grow from five to eight feet in length.  The male leopard is larger than the female, and size and weight varies through its geographical range.
  • “Black panthers” are actually leopards with a recessive melanistic gene. They are more common in areas with less light; out of all the big predator cats, leopards are the most likely to have melanistic coloration.
  • Leopards may mate all year round, although in the northern part of their range breeding takes place generally in January or February.
  • Pregnant females find a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to give birth to up to four cubs (but usually two).  Born blind and helpless, it will be six weeks before they emerge from their den.  They are weaned at about three months, when they begin to follow their mother on hunts.  At 12 months leopards are catching small prey, but they will need to stay with their mother until 18 months to two years old.
  • Leopard cubs are born with dull gray hair, and usually open their eyes at around ten days old.  While the cubs are still small, their mother carries them to a new hiding place every few days, possibly to avoid the build-up of scent that would attract predatory lions, hyenas, or even male leopards.
  • Leopard life span varies greatly, but on average a leopard in the wild probably lives for between 11 and 15 years.  Successful individuals are probably capable of survival to around twenty years.
  • Leopards are agile climbers.  They possess flexible ankle joints that allow the foot to rotate greatly, allowing them to descend head first from high perches.
  • Although leopards have a reputation as primarily nocturnal hunters, a considerable percentage of their predatory kills take place in daylight.  As solitary hunters, they rely on stalk and ambush techniques.
  • Leopards have a wide variety of prey, including impala, squirrels, and monkeys and assorted birds.  They often take their kills up into the safety of tree branches, and are capable of lifting carcasses much heavier than their own body weight, placing them on branches over 6m high.
  • The black and gold rosettes on a leopard's coat work as camouflage to keep it hidden.   Still, hyenas, lions and baboons have been known to find and kill leopards.
  • Even though leopards are highly adaptable, they are on the endangered species list in certain regions. Leopards face habitat destruction, and in some places are legally hunted as trophies.  Illegal hunting of leopards for their fur became so common in the 1960s that as many as 50,000 skins were marked annually.

Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
We use our own and third-party cookies to improve our services, personalise your advertising and remember your preferences. If you continue browsing, or click on the accept button on this banner, we understand that you accept the use of cookies on our website. For more information visit our Cookies Policy AcceptClose cookie policy overlay