• SCIENTIFIC NAME: Panthera pardus


According to African legend, the leopard got its spots when it came too close to its friend Fire and got singed. But these markings also give the leopard almost unparalleled camouflage abilities in the sun-dappled shadows of forests and the bush. With their rosette spots and graceful movements, leopards are among the most elegant of the African predators.





Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: 10 to 12 years
In captivity: 21 to 23 years

Conservation Status

Near threatened


Male: 132 to 159 lb (60 to 72 kg)
Female: 55 to 95 lb (27 to 43 kg)


Male: 4.0 to 4.5 ft (1.2 to 1.4 m) long, excluding tail
Female: 3.3 to 3.6 ft (1.0 to 1.1 m) long, excluding tail


Listen to the sounds of the Leopard

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Similar to a lion's but smaller, and the toes are stubbier and more rounded; hind tracks often clearer
Scat: Sausage-shaped, segmented, and often tapered on one end; commonly contains fur or small bone fragments

Leopard tracks

Trivia Question

How do you tell a leopard from a cheetah?


A cheetah is much leaner than a leopard and has black “tear stains” running from its eyes to its mouth. Its spots also differ. A leopard has “rosettes” around its spots, while a cheetah has simple round dots.

Social Structure

Leopards of both sexes lead solitary lives on their own territories. Adults stay together mainly when mating, though non-mating pairs also regularly meet and remain together for brief periods. A male’s range can include several female ranges, which are typically much smaller. Adults defend their territories against other leopards of their own gender, though sometimes they allow leopards of the opposite sex onto their home turf. Both sexes delineate their territories by scent marking, accomplished by rubbing their cheeks on trees, spraying vegetation with urine, and depositing scat.


Leopards communicate with a limited range of calls. Their “saw” (also called a “cough” or “rasp”) can be heard up to two miles (3 km) away. Leopards use the saw most frequently at dusk and dawn to alert other leopards that they are near. They also chuff, a kind of a huffing sound, to greet others during friendly encounters, growl, snarl, and hiss during less friendly meetings. Unlike lions, leopards can purr. A female in estrus vocalizes and scent-marks more than usual in order to attract nearby males.


Leopards will hunt any time prey is available, though they tend to be the most active at night, in the early morning, and in late afternoon. Hunting is a solitary activity for these cats. Even a female with older cubs will leave her young behind when she hunts. Territorial, the cats frequently patrol their home range, marking and remarking the borders.


Although leopard populations are extremely successful in protected areas, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies them as a near threatened species. When leopards kill livestock, they risk being killed by ranchers. They also compete with humans for food and are hunted by poachers for their distinctive coats as well as for traditional medicine and religious purposes.

Range & Habitat

Leopards used to roam all across Africa, except for the driest deserts. They are still a widespread species, though their range has diminished by about 40 percent. They are extinct in Egypt and in areas of sub-Saharan Africa with dense concentrations of human populations.

Leopards are very adaptable. Of all African cats, only the leopard can thrive in both rain forests and deserts. They prefer forests and scrubland with plenty of trees, though they can also survive in mountains, along coasts, in swamps, in mangroves, in arid grasslands, and in deserts. Skilled climbers, a leopard can climb down a tree headfirst. Typically, leopards that live in dark forests have darker colorations—dark skins with only slightly darker spots—and those that live in savannas and deserts are lighter in color and have lighter spots, combinations that helps them blend in with their surroundings.


Leopards will eat a wide range of animals, from rodents and jackals to gorillas and elephant calves, though they prefer those that weigh between 22 and 88 pounds (10 and 40 kg) and that pose little risk of injury to the leopard. Leopards typically kill an animal by biting its throat and suffocating it. They kill smaller animals with a bite on the back of the neck. Thrifty hunters, they will cache a carcass in a tree and return to it to eat for several days. Leopards will also scavenge carcasses of kills made by other animals. Leopards occasionally prey on livestock, depending on how much wild prey is available in the area. In Kenya, however, leopards are responsible for very few livestock deaths.


Leopards mate and give birth in all seasons. Females mate with males from nearby territories, giving no one male exclusive access. Litters of one to three cubs are born after a gestation period of 90 to 106 days. Young cubs stay in dens made of tree branches, other vegetation, and rocks, or in caves or aardvark burrows. They become independent when they are about a year old, though how young leopards find their own range is unclear.

Friends & Foes

Only an adult lion can kill a healthy adult leopard, though packs of other predators (including spotted hyenas, African wild dogs, and male baboons) can sometimes accomplish the same feat. Young leopards are vulnerable to predation by lions as well as hyenas, cheetahs, and caracals, though this is rare. Leopards are a host for the protozoa that causes human sleeping sickness.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Leopards are believed to be the most abundant large cats in Africa, though they’re extremely difficult to count. The most commonly cited statistic—700,000—is now viewed as flawed. We simply don’t know how many leopards live on the continent because they’re so hard to find. The number of leopards in an area depends on the availability of prey. In good habitat in Kenya, scientists have recorded densities of 17 to 36 per 100 square miles (6.5 to 14.5 per 100 km2).


Did you know?

Leopards are a bit fastidious and will remove the fur or feathers from a kill before consuming their meal.