The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus), found in sub-Saharan and northeast Africa, has a striking fur coat. Beautiful to look at, the coat serves important functions as well. The black spots, or rosettes, form a pattern that camouflages the cat as it stalks its prey. That rosette pattern, unique to each animal, also identifies individual leopards, similar to a human fingerprint.
Though rare in Africa, there is also an all-black leopard, whose rosettes are barely visible against its black fur. Black leopards are not a unique species or subspecies. The coloring is the result of a genetic mutation that causes an increased production of melanin.
Leopards are the smallest of the four “big cats,” the others being the lion, tiger, and jaguar. Highly adaptable, they live in any of a wide variety of habitats, including savannas, deserts, mountains, and rain forests. Their diet is flexible, too. Though they prefer medium-sized ungulates such as gazelles and deer, they also eat insects, reptiles, and birds.
Solitary and nocturnal, African leopards need a lot of space to live and reproduce. That’s becoming a problem. As the human population grows in Africa, people are converting forests, savannas, and rain forests to areas of agriculture and livestock farming. Urban sprawl is also encroaching on the African leopard’s natural habitat.
Increasingly, leopards are coming into conflict with humans. Farmers’ livestock is a tempting and convenient food source for leopards, particularly as their typical prey decline in numbers. Farmers often resort to killing leopards to protect their livestock.
The leopard’s beautiful coat also makes it a target for poaching for the skin trade and for traditional African medicines and religious practices.
Worldwide the leopard population is declining and it is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Communities and organizations are working to protect them through habitat preservation, education, and other conservation efforts.
How fast can a leopard run?
What happens as populations of predators, including leopards and other big cats, shrink? Why are these big cats so important?
What are some successful approaches for conservation of Africa’s big cats, including leopards?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry adaptable Adjective
capable of adjusting to new surroundings or a new situation.
the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).
Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture camouflage Noun
tactic that organisms use to disguise their appearance, usually to blend in with their surroundings.
Encyclopedic Entry: camouflage habitat Noun
environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: habitat livestock noun, plural noun
animals raised for sale and profit.
active at night.
animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.
rose-shaped patch of color on the skin or fur of some animals, such as cheetahs and jaguars.
mammal with hooves, usually divided into even-toed ungulates (cattle, camels, deer) and odd-toed ungulates (horses, zebras, rhinoceroses).
urban sprawl Noun
unplanned low-density development surrounding an urban area that often starts as rural land. Also called suburban sprawl.