Monday, October 20, 2008

Leopard

The leopard, Panthera pardus, is one of the largest members of the cat family, Felidae. A large male may weigh more than 91 kg (200 lb), may stand 70 cm (28 in) high at the shoulder, and may be 1.5 m (nearly 5 ft) long, plus a 90-cm (35 in) tail. Leopards occupy a great diversity of habitats, including dry grass-lands, scrubland, mountains, and jungles. They have the greatest geographic distribution of any wild cat, being found over most of Africa south of the Sahara and from the Middle East and India north into central Asia and south into the East Indies. The leopard’s color varies from a pale yellowish gray to a yellowish red, with whitish underparts. Spots are present over the entire body, but on the back and sides they are formed into circles, or rosettes. Black leopards, or panthers, occur in the same litter with yellowish leopards.


Leopards are chiefly nocturnal and solitary, but a male and female commonly hunt as a pair during and for a time after the mating season. Usually two to four young are born after a gestation period of 90 to 105 days. Intensive hunting of leopards for their skins has eliminated or seriously reduced a number of subspecies and geographical races.


The snow leopard, or ounce, Uncia uncia, is similar in size and general appearance to the leopard. Its coat, however, has a dense, wooly underfur and a long, thick outer coat. It is generally light yellowish gray to cream colored, with black to grayish rosettes on the upper parts of the body. Snow leopards are found in the highlands of central Asia from the Altai Mountains into the Himalayas. They inhibit rocky grasslands above the tree line. Breeding occurs in late winter, and usually two to four young are born after gestation period of about 98 days. The snow leopard has become quite scarce mainly because of overhunting for its beautiful fur.


The clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, weighs up to 23 kg (50 lb) and may be 80 cm (32 in) high at the shoulder and 1 m (40 in) long, plus a 90 cm (35 in) tail. It is grayish or yellowish to brownish yellow in color, with black spots and dashes on the head, legs, and tail, and large, black-bordered, “cloudlike” bloches on its sides. Clouded leopards inhabit forest from India to Taiwan south into Borneo. Gestation is about 90 days, with apparently two young to a litter. The clouded leopard continues to be hunted, despite its rarity.

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