African Leopard

African Leopard

Photograph by Greg Harvey Willdife Photography

Scotch Macaskill - African Leopard Gallery

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Scientific Name: Panthera pardus pardus

(Researched and compiled by Dr. Sarah May)


  • Males average 60kg (130 lb)
  • Females range from 35 – 40 kg (77 - 88 lbs)a
  • Exceptionally large males weighing over 91 kg have been reported from South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where average adult weights are otherwise 58 kg for males (n=3) and 37.5 kg for females (n=5).  Male leopards from the coastal mountains of South Africa’s Cape Province are much smaller, with an average weight of 31 kg (n=27).b
  • The wide variation in size (and coat colour) of the African Leopard most likely reflects natural phenotypic variation in response to the diverse range of habitats and environmental conditions in which this species is found across its range. There is some speculation that this variation reflects speciation, specifically that the African Leopard comprises a number of sub-species.  However more research is needed to validate this.

Overall length:

  • Head and Body - 1300 – 1900 mm (4.25 to 6.25 ft)
  • Tail - 1100 – 1400 mm (3.5 - 4.5 ft)


The African leopard is most successful in woodland, grassland savannas and forest, but is also found in mountain habitats, coastal scrub, swampy areas, shrubland, semi-desert and desert, as long as there is water and cover available.b In the absence of intense persecution they can be found in altered natural habitats and settled environments and may occur near major cities.b


  • Historic:  Most of sub-Saharan Africa in all habitats with annual rainfall above 50 mm (2.0 in) and in drier areas where there is available water and cover. 
  • Current:  The African Leopard has vanished from almost 40% of its historic range and remains patchily distributed within its current extent. The most marked range depletion has been in the Sahel belt, Nigeria and South Africa and it is now rare throughout much of West Africa. In North Africa, a tiny relict population persists in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and is likely to be extinct in Egyptc. In South Africa, leopard populations are smaller and more fragmented then previously believed. Densities vary with habitat, prey availability, and degree of threat, from less than one per 100 km² to over 30 per 100 km², with highest densities obtained in protected East and southern African mesic woodland savannasc.
African Leopard Range Map jpg

(NB: this map is being posted temporarily pending the availability of a more current version)


  • Adult males are almost entirely solitary and males and females are only found together during mating season.d
  • The African Leopard has a fairly large home range with the male home range larger than the females, e.g., 30-78 km2 (males) and 15-23 km2 (females) in protected areas.b  Male territories overlap the territories of several females.d
  • Female territories concentrate where prey is most available, while the size of the male home range is determined by the number of females present rather than the availability of prey.b,d  
  • Home ranges are larger and population densities are correspondingly smaller where prey availability is lowerb.  For example, in mountainous terrain interspersed with farms and ranches, leopard home ranges for two individuals (a male and a female) were 338 and 487 km2, whereas where prey is abundant the home ranges of leopards may be as small as 18 km2 for females and 55 km2 for males.b
  • This species communicates mainly by scent, using urine, secretions and faeces to scent mark along commonly used routes and at conspicuous places along trails and territory boundaries.e
  • Activity of the African Leopard varies depending on gender, reproductive status, prey availability and habitat.  Generally this species is most active between sunset and sunrise, and more prey is killed at this time.   Males and females with cubs may be more active at night than solitary females.  The highest rates of daytime activity have been recorded for leopards using thorn thickets during the wet season when their prey, the Impala (Aepyceros melampus) also used them.  In tropical rainforest two leopards hunted only during the day and travelled at night.b


  • Female leopards become sexually mature at 2.5 – 3 years old, and males at approximately 2.5 – 4 years old.d  
  • The female may spend nearly half of its life caring for young cubs.d: birthing intervals range between 15 months to 2 years.b
  • The leopard breeds throughout most of the year in most of Africa.  In South Africa, the leopard breeds in the dry season, between July and October.e  Where Impala (A. melampus) are the primary prey, the peak in leopard births corresponds with the peak in Impala births.b
  • After a gestation period of 90 to 105 daysb, 1 – 4 cubs are born, although up to 6 young have been recorded.d,e,f  The female uses dens, such as caves, thickets, hollow trees, abandoned burrows or rock pilese, to shelter her young.  The young remain there until they are able to follow their mother at around 6 to 8 weeks oldd.  The cubs may be moved between dens as they grow older.e
  • The leopard cubs are weaned at 4 monthsd, and attain independence at around 12.5 months.d  Siblings remain together for a further 2 - 3 months.d 
  • Cub mortality rates during the first year may be as high as 50%.b,d  In one study, average sub-adult (1.5 – 3.5 year old) survival was estimated to be 32%, twice as high as the mortality rate for adults in their prime, and is likely to be related to poorer hunting prowess.b  In adults, 64% of deaths are attributable to starvation.b


  • The African Leopard has an extremely diverse diet.  More than 90 species have been recorded in the diet, ranging from arthropods, reptiles, small birds and small-to medium-sized mammals, and occasionally mammals as large as adult male Eland (Tragelaphus oryx)b,d,e,f.
  • Hunting activity usually focuses on locally abundant medium-sized ungulate species in the 20-80 kg range, while opportunistically taking other prey.
  • A male leopard will usually make a kill about every three days.  A female with cubs may hunt twice as often.b,f
  • Size of prey is related to the age of the leopard and relative abundance of different sized prey species.  For example, smaller prey tends to be taken by sub-adult individuals and when larger prey is less available.  
  • This flexible diet allows the leopard to successfully compete with larger carnivores.  In addition, by caching large prey in trees the leopard is able to protect its prey from larger predatorsb.

Conservation Status:

  • IUCN Red Data List Near Threatened* - NT (they may soon qualify for the Vulnerable status due to: habitat loss and fragmentation; they are becoming increasingly rare outside protected areas; and the population is decreasing).  
  • CITES Appendix I (“Threatened with extinction and is or may be affected by trade”).  
  • Legal international traffic: limited largely to exports of skins and hunting trophies under a CITES Appendix I quota system by 13 African countries.
  • National legislation: includes protected across its range, although killing of “problem” animals, either by landowners or government authorities, generally permitted.  
  • Hunting prohibited or restricted to “problem/ dangerous” animals: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zaire.  
  • No legal protection: Gambia.  
  • No information:  Burundi, Chad, Guinea.

*NB. The African Leopard is not distinguished on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.  The IUCN Status is therefore a composite for all subspecies of P. pardus some of which are critically endangered (e.g. P.p. nimr, P.p. orientalis). In general, P.p. pardus is probably the least endangered of the subspecies, but it is also possibly the most heavily persecuted and rapidly declining.

Population Estimates:

Wild:  There are no reliable continent-wide estimates of population size in Africac.

  • The population of leopards varies over its range.  While still numerous and considered thriving in some marginal habitats from which other big cats have disappeared in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, in North Africa leopards are on the verge of extinction.  
  • In South Africa, best guess estimates for the population are between 2185 – 6780 individualsd.


  • Habitat destruction for agriculture and development.
  • Persecution for real and perceived livestock loss:
- Poisoning of carcasses by livestock owners to target large carnivores is an increasing threatb, particularly in  semi- desert areas, where scarce resources often result in conflict with nomadic farmers and their livestockc. 
  • Competition for prey species between humans and leopards:
- Elimination of natural prey species is resulting in more conflict with humanse.  For example, in intact rainforest, competition with human hunters for prey (bush meat) denudes forests of prey and may drive localised extinctionsc.
  • Trophy-hunting:

- The leopard is one of the ‘Big Five’, meaning that along with the Lion (Panthera leo), the African Elephant (Loxodonata africana), the African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and rhinoceros (Diceros sp.) it is one of the most highly prized targets of sport huntersd.

- The impact of trophy hunting on populations is unclear, but may have impacts at the demographic and population level, especially when females are shot.  In Tanzania, which allows only males to be hunted, females comprised 28.6% of 77 trophies shot between 1995 and 1998c.

  • Poaching:

- Trade in leopard skins and teeth for use in traditional rituals and ceremonial dress is common in some central and West African countries, and illegal trade in Europe and Asia also poses a major problem.b,e

Long-term prognosis:

  •  The population is decreasingb.
  • The African Leopard occurs in numerous protected areas across Africab, and growing wildlife tourism throughout this species’ range may make a significant contribution to its survivald.
  • The majority of the population occurs outside of protected areas, necessitating a need for improved conflict mitigation measures (including livestock management, conflict resolution)c.


a  Wikipedia (June 2012).  African Leopard.  Online: 

b  Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. (eds).  (1996).  Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan Wild Cats.  IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group.  IUCN. Gland, Switzerland.  Online: 

c  Henschel, P., Hunter, L., Breitenmoser, U., Purchase, N., Packer, C., Khorozyan, I., Bauer, H., Marker, L., Sogbohossou, E. & Breitenmoser-Wursten, C.  (2008).  Panthera pardus.  In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Version 2011.2. . Downloaded on 03 June 2012.  Online:

d  Friedmann, Y. and Traylor-Holzer, K.  (2008).  Leopard (Panthera pardus) Case Study.  WG 5 – Mammals, Case Study 4 Panthera pardus.  Country – SOUTH AFRICA.  NDF Workshop Case Studies, Mexico. 

e  Nowak, R.M.  (1991).  Walker’s Mammals of the World.  The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

f  ARKive (June 2012).  Leopard (Panthera pardus).  Online:

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