Leopards are one of the five extant species of the genus Panthera.
These big cats are closely related to tigers, jaguars, and lions and can be found in several parts of Africa and Asia.
Like tigers, leopards can be recognized by their spotted coats.
They are also distinguished by their lean physique, supported by strong legs, and their long tail, which they use to balance while climbing trees.
Depending on their habitat, leopards can have various colors and patterns.
While those found in forests typically have more marks and are darker to blend in with the backdrop, those found in open meadows have a background coat that has been sun-bleached to a pale yellow color.
Leopards are the smallest of the four big cats in the Panthera genus.
Naturalists initially suggested 27 leopard subspecies between 1794 and 1956.
On the basis of mitochondrial studies, only eight subspecies have been recognized as legitimate since 1996.
However, subsequent research identified the Arabian leopard as the ninth legitimate subspecies.
All nine subspecies will be discussed in this article.
There are nine distinct subspecies of leopards, varying in appearance and geographic distribution, with the African leopard being the most prevalent and frequent.
We will address each of them below.
9. African Leopard
Otherwise called the Panthera pardus pardus, the African leopard is the most common leopard subspecies found in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite their widespread distribution, the IUCN lists African leopards as vulnerable because of their diminishing population brought on by habitat loss and fragmentation, an increase in the illegal wildlife trade, a drop in prey, and poorly controlled trophy hunting.
African leopards are extremely athletic predators, and like most felines, they can race up to 58 miles per hour and leap as high as six meters into the air.
Due to the sexual dimorphism of the African leopard, males are bigger and heavier than females.
The average weight of a male African leopard is 128 pounds, while the average weight of a female is 83 pounds.
Depending on its location and habitat, the African leopard’s coat color also varies greatly.
The coat is patterned with black rosettes and ranges in hue from light yellow to deep gold or tawny and, occasionally, even black.
However, their heads, lower limbs, and bellies are usually solid black.
African leopards inhabited a wide range of habitats within Africa, from mountainous forests to grasslands and savannahs, excluding only extremely sandy deserts.
These creatures have a diverse diet and can adjust to fluctuations in the availability of prey.
Where large animals are less prevalent, they choose to hunt smaller prey.
Leopards typically kill more prey between dusk and daybreak as this is when they are most active.
8. Indian Leopard
As the name suggests, the Indian subspecies of leopards are widely scattered on the Indian subcontinent.
Otherwise called Panthera pardus fusca, the IUCN Red List categorizes the Indian leopard as Vulnerable due to population declines brought on by habitat loss and poaching for the illicit trade in skins and body parts.
Despite being more popular in India, the Indian leopard can also be found in places like Pakistan, Bhutan, and Nepal.
Usually, male Indian leopards grow as much as 4 feet 2 inches in shoulder height and 4 feet 8 inches in full body length, tail excluded.
They also weigh 110 and 170 pounds, making them larger than the average African leopard.
On the other hand, female Indian leopards are smaller, weighing between 64 and 75 pounds.
Their coats are spotted with unique rosette patterns on a backdrop of light yellow to yellowish-brown or gold.
This subspecies likes to inhabit several forested regions, including tropical rainforests, temperate forests, and dry deciduous forests. Indian leopards are mainly nocturnal, solitary, and stealthy.
They are well-known for their climbing prowess and have been seen hanging out on tree branches during the day, resting after carrying their prey up trees to hang them.
Like other leopard subspecies, the Indian subspecies are carnivorous.
7. Sri Lankan Leopard
First identified and described in 1956, the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is a leopard subspecies native to Sri Lanka.
The subspecies is called Kotiya by the natives, and it is classified as endangered because of its declining population as a result of human activities, especially poaching.
The top predator in Sri Lanka is the leopard.
Although there wasn’t much research done on it in the past, current studies conducted as part of “The Leopard Project” by The Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust show that they are still present on the island, both inside and outside of protected areas.
The lack of other big animals, like lions and tigers, places the leopard at the top of the food chain with no competition from large prey, making the Sri Lankan subspecies one of the biggest subspecies of leopards.
The average size of a male Sri Lankan leopard is 124 pounds, with the largest weighing around 170, while females average 64 pounds.
The Sri Lankan leopard has smaller rosettes than Indian leopards and a tawny or rusty yellow coat with dark markings.
There have also been sightings of almost black leopards in the damp zone and mountainous areas of the island.
This subspecies is highly adaptable and inhabits several habitats, including low and upper-highland forests, rainforests, etc.
A study conducted on the subspecies showed that they are not particularly social animals, preferring to hunt their prey alone.
Though they are active throughout the day, they prefer to hunt at night.
Sri Lankan leopards are opportunistic in their choice of diet, which can include small mammals, birds, reptiles, and larger animals. Some of their prey include monkeys and wild boars.
6. Arabian Leopard
The Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) is a subspecies of leopard indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula.
Since fewer than 200 wild individuals were considered alive in 2006, the IUCN Red List classified it as critically endangered.
One of the most significant native mammal species on the Arabian Peninsula is the Arabian Leopard, which originated in Africa some 500,000 years ago.
After a DNA study on a leopard found in South Arabia that closely resembled the African leopard was completed, this subspecies was formally defined and recognized.
The Arabian leopard is categorized as the smallest leopard subspecies; males weigh an average of 66 pounds, while females weigh around 44 pounds.
The rosettes-patterned fur of the Arabian leopard ranges in color from light yellow to deep golden, tawny, or gray.
Although the Arabian leopard’s geographic distribution is poorly established, it is believed to be restricted to the Arabian Peninsula.
It inhabits steep steppes and mountainous uplands but rarely ventures into broad plains, deserts, or coastal lowlands.
The subspecies also favor densely forested territory that is challenging for humans to access.
Although they occasionally appear during the day, Arabian leopards are primarily nocturnal animals.
They prefer to hunt small to medium-sized prey species and typically keep the carcasses of larger animals in their caves rather than in trees.
5. Amur Leopard
Native to Primorye in southeastern Russia and China, the Amur leopard subspecies (Panthera pardus orientalis) is one of the most critically endangered leopard subspecies to exist, with around 110 individuals left in the wild in 2021.
Other names for this subspecies include the Far Eastern leopard and Siberian leopard.
Although Amur leopards are in danger of going extinct, the establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park and other conservation initiatives offer hope for their survival.
The thick, cream-colored fur of the Amur leopard distinguishes it from other leopard subspecies, especially during the winter months.
Winter coats can range in color from a very light yellow to a deep yellowish-red with a golden undertone or a rusty-reddish yellow.
The fur has a more vibrant color pattern and is brighter in the summer.
This subspecies is relatively small, with males weighing between 71 and 106 pounds and females weighing between 55 and 94 pounds.
The Amur subspecies inhabits several forest habitats in Russia’s Far East, and it is adapted to cold weather and snow.
These animals also inhabit mountainous areas and areas with a high population of deer. Their diet consists of other animals, including hares, badgers, fowls, and wild boars.
The solitary Amur leopard prefers hunting alone.
Strong and agile, it carries and conceals incomplete kills to prevent other predators from stealing them.
4. Javan Leopard
The Javan leopard is a subspecies that can only be found on the Indonesian island of Java.
Also known as Panthera pardus melas or the clouded leopard, this subspecies is affected by fragmentations and other human activities, as Java is the most populated island in the world.
Every Javan leopard’s death seriously threatens the species’ existence because only about 200 to 400 of them are left in the wild.
As a result, the Javan leopard is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN.
Javan leopards resemble other leopards in general appearance, but they are slightly smaller.
Like most leopards, sexual dimorphism affects Javan leopards, making males bigger than females.
These leopards average between 110 and 154 pounds.
Javan leopards have thick, velvety fur that is white on the belly and ranges in color from yellow to dark gold on the back, legs, and head.
Because some of them have a recessive trait that results in a black coat, they were initially mistaken for black panthers.
Except for the breeding season, this species lives alone and in secrecy most of the time.
In an effort to warn rivals to keep away, individuals use scents to mark their territory.
Being crepuscular, they spend most of their time active at dawn and dusk.
These wild cats are carnivorous and feed on a range of creatures.
They frequently hunt muntjac, Javan gibbon, wild boar, and silvery lutung.
When living close to populated areas, Javan leopards also prey on dogs, goats, and other domestic animals.
3. Indochinese Leopard
A subspecies of the leopard indigenous to southern China and mainland Southeast Asia is the Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri).
Leopards are uncommon outside of protected areas in Indochina, where they face threats from habitat loss due to deforestation and poaching for the illicit wildlife trade.
Formerly widely distributed throughout Southeast Asia and southern China, this apex predator now inhabits a small portion (about 2%–6%) of its original range.
Their skin has tiny rosettes, varying in color from rusty red to black-brown.
Like other leopard subspecies, male Indochinese leopards are larger than females.
These animals weigh between 64.4 and 198 pounds.
They have an average shoulder height of 36.2 to 74.8 inches and a full body length of 35.8 to 75.1 inches, with their tails taking up about 40-50% of their full length.
The Indochinese leopard is generally solitary and prefers to stay active at night.
These animals prefer hunting smaller prey, making it easy for them to drag the carcass up a tree.
Because some members of this subspecies have completely black fur, it makes it easier for them to ambush their prey and hide from humans.
These animals are hardly ever seen outside of protected zones, but they also enjoy living in grassy or dense undergrowth, open deciduous forests, and hilly places.
2. North Chinese Leopard
The North China leopards (Panthera pardus japonensis) are graceful and powerful leopards found in the mountains and forests of northern China.
The Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group classified the North China leopard as an Amur leopard in 2017 due to its similarity to Amur leopards and the absence of a biogeographical barrier between these two leopards.
Yet, the lack of molecular-level proof means this categorization is still debatable.
The two huge cats have different coats and sizes even though their habitats are near to one another.
Unlike the Amur leopard’s cream-colored fur, North Chinese leopards have more tan-colored fur.
While there is not much of a difference in their weight, the Amur leopard has a full body length between 180 and 240 cm, while North Chinese leopards are between 170 and 210 cm.
The number of leopards in North China is unknown because of a lack of data, and because their main predators, such as bears, wolves, and tigers, do not live in their favored habitats, these leopards are thought to be the top predators.
The primary dangers to the species include conflicts between humans and other animals, poaching for the wildlife trade, habitat degradation or fragmentation, and a lack of available prey.
1. Zanzibar Leopard
Due to persecution by local hunters and habitat destruction, the Zanzibar leopard population on Unguja Island in Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago is now thought to be extinct.
It was the largest terrestrial carnivore and apex predator on the island before it went extinct.
This species was thought to have evolved separately from mainland African leopards when the island separated from mainland Tanzania by increasing sea levels.
Because the subspecies went extinct in the early 20th century, there is not a lot of information on how it looked.
According to the little available, the Zanzibar leopard had pale yellow fur that did not have the usual rosettes like other leopards but instead was covered in brown spots.
Also, it is said to have been smaller than the average African leopard, with a longer tail and lower stance.
The habitat and prey base of the Zanzibar leopard were adversely affected by the growth of agriculture and population in the 20th century.
Also, the people at the time believed that witches sent the leopards to do their bidding, so there was constant conflict between the humans and the Zanzibar leopards.
By the mid-20th century, the people had succeeded in killing all the leopards that were left in the area.
Although there have been rumors about Zanzibar leopard sightings over the years, there is still no evidence that the subspecies still exists.