Indian leopard

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Indian leopard
Leopard Male Nagarhole.jpg
Male Indian leopard at Nagarhole National Park, India
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. pardus
Subspecies: P. p. fusca
Trinomial name
Panthera pardus fusca
(Meyer), 1794

The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent. The species Panthera pardus is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN since 2008 because populations have declined following habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts, and persecution due to conflict situations.[1]

The Indian leopard is one of the five big cats found in India, apart from the Asiatic lion, the Bengal tiger, the snow leopard and the clouded leopard.


In 1794, Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer wrote the first description of Felis fusca, in which he gave account of a panther-like cat from Bengal of about 85.5 cm (33.7 in), with strong legs and a long well-formed tail, head as big as a panther’s, broad muzzle, short ears and small, yellowish grey eyes, light grey ocular bulbs; black at first sight, but on closer examination dark brown with circular darker coloured spots, tinged pale red underneath.[2]

Male Indian leopards grow to between 4 ft 2 in (127 cm) and 4 ft 8 in (142 cm) in body size with a 2 ft 6 in (76 cm) to 3 ft (91 cm) long tail and weigh between 110 and 170 lb (50 and 77 kg). Females are smaller growing to between 3 ft 5 in (104 cm) and 3 ft 10 in (117 cm) in body size with a 2 ft 6 in (76 cm) to 2 ft 10.5 in (87.6 cm) in long tail and weight between 64 and 75 lb (29 and 34 kg).[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Leopard on a tree in South India

On the Indian subcontinent, topographical barriers to the dispersal of this subspecies are the Indus River in the west, and the Himalayas in the north.[4] In the east, the lower course of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Delta form natural barriers to the distribution of the Indochinese leopard. Indian leopards are distributed all over India, in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and parts of Pakistan. In the Himalayas they are sympatric with snow leopards up to 5,200 metres (17,100 ft) above sea level.[5] Indian leopards inhabit tropical rain forests, dry deciduous forests, temperate forests and northern coniferous forests but do not occur in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans.[6] Indian leopard has been seen by camera trapping in Chittagong hill tracts, Bangladesh but the numbers are very low.[7] As of September 2015, the leopard population of India itself was estimated at between 12,000 and 14,000 individuals.[8]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

In Nepal's Bardia National Park, home ranges of male leopards comprised about 48 km2 (19 sq mi), and of females about 17 km2 (6.6 sq mi); female home ranges decreased to 5 to 7 km2 (1.9 to 2.7 sq mi) when they had young cubs.[9] In Sariska National Park, the diet of Indian leopards includes axis deer, sambar deer, nilgai, wild pig, common langur, hare and peafowl.[10]

Indian leopards are not common in habitat where tiger density is high, and are wedged between prime tiger habitat on the one side, and cultivated village land on the other.[11] Where the tiger population increases, tigers drive leopards off to areas located closer to human settlements.[12][13] In the Gir National Park, they are sympatric with Asiatic lions.[14] Elsewhere on the Indian subcontinent, they co-occur with Asiatic black bears, sloth bears, Indian wolves, striped hyenas and wild dogs.[15][16]


Hunting of Indian leopards for the illegal wildlife trade is the biggest threat to their survival. They are also threatened by loss of habitat and fragmentation of formerly connected populations, and various levels of human–leopard conflict in human–dominated landscapes.[6]


Leopard skins

A significant immediate threat to wild leopard populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal and China. The governments of these countries have failed to implement adequate enforcement response, and wildlife crime remained a low priority in terms of political commitment and investment for years. There are well-organised gangs of professional poachers, who move from place to place and set up camp in vulnerable areas. Skins are rough-cured in the field and handed over to dealers, who send them for further treatment to Indian tanning centres. Buyers choose the skins from dealers or tanneries and smuggle them through a complex interlinking network to markets outside India, mainly in China.[17] Seized skins in Kathmandu confirm the city's role as a key staging point for illegal skins smuggled from India bound for Tibet and China.[18]

It is likely that seizures represent a tiny fraction of the total illegal trade, with the majority of smuggled skins reaching their intended end market.[17] Seizures revealed:

In May 2010, the Wildlife Protection Society of India estimated that in India at least 3,189 leopards were killed since 1994. For every tiger skin, there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul.[27]

Human–leopard conflict[edit]

A Leopard Crossing sign in Bangalore

Expansion of agriculturally used land, encroachment of humans and their livestock into protected areas are main factors contributing to habitat loss and decrease of wild prey. As a result, leopards approach human settlements, where they are tempted to prey on dogs, pigs and goats — domestic livestock, which constitutes an important part of their diet, if they live on the periphery of human habitations. Human–leopard conflict situations ensue, and have increased in recent years. In retaliation for attacks on livestock, leopards are shot, poisoned and trapped in snares. The leopards are considered to be unwanted trespassers by villagers. Conservationists criticize these actions, claiming that people are encroaching on the leopard's native habitat. [28][29]

India's Forest Department is entitled to set up traps only in cases of a leopard having attacked humans. If only the presence of a crowd of people prevents the leopard from escaping, then the crowd has to be dispersed and the animal allowed to escape.[30] Bangalore has reported leopard sightings in the recent years and the forest department has captured six leopards from the city outskirts, relocating four of them to various other locations.[31] As urban areas expanded, the natural habitats of leopards shrunk resulting in leopards venturing into urbanized areas due to easy access of domestic food sources.[32]


Indian leopard

Panthera pardus is listed in CITES Appendix I.[1]

Despite India and Nepal being contracting parties to CITES, national legislation of both countries does not incorporate and address the spirit and concerns of CITES. Trained human resources, basic facilities and effective networks for control of poaching and trade in wildlife are lacking.[24]

Frederick Walter Champion was one of the first in India who after World War I advocated for the conservation of leopards, condemned sport hunting and recognised their key role in the ecosystem.[33] Billy Arjan Singh championed their cause since the early 1970s.[34]

In culture[edit]

A black Indian leopard named Bagheera is featured in The Jungle Book.


  1. ^ a b c Henschel, P., Hunter, L., Breitenmoser, U., Purchase, N., Packer, C., Khorozyan, I., Bauer, H., Marker, L., Sogbohossou, E., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C. (2008). "Panthera pardus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ Meyer, F. A. A. (1794) Über de la Metheries schwarzen Panther. Zoologische Annalen, Band I. Im Verlage des Industrie-Comptoirs, Weimar, pp. 394–396
  3. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1939). The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia. – Volume 1. Taylor and Francis, London.
  4. ^ Miththapala, S., Seidensticker, J., O'Brien, S. J. (1996). Phylogeographic Subspecies Recognition in Leopards (P. pardus): Molecular Genetic Variation. Conservation Biology 10 (4): 1115–1132
  5. ^ Uphyrkina, O.; Johnson, E.W.; Quigley, H.; Miquelle, D.; Marker, L.; Bush, M.; O'Brien, S. J. (2001). "Phylogenetics, genome diversity and origin of modern leopard, Panthera pardus" (PDF). Molecular Ecology 10 (11): 2617–2633. doi:10.1046/j.0962-1083.2001.01350.x. PMID 11883877. 
  6. ^ a b Nowell, K., Jackson, P. (1996). Wild Cats: status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland.
  7. ^ "Leopard". Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  8. ^ "India gets a count of leopard population". Times of India. 
  9. ^ Odden, M., Wegge, P. (2005). "Spacing and activity patterns of leopards Panthera pardus in the Royal Bardia National Park, Nepal" (PDF). Wildlife Biology 11 (2): 145–152. doi:10.2981/0909-6396(2005)11[145:SAAPOL]2.0.CO;2. 
  10. ^ Mondal, K., Gupta, S., Bhattacharjee, S., Qureshi, Q. and K. Sankar (2012). "Prey selection, food habits and dietary overlap between leopard Panthera pardus (Mammalia: Carnivora) and re-introduced tiger Panthera tigris (Mammalia: Carnivora) in a semi-arid forest of Sariska Tiger Reserve, Western India". Italian Journal of Zoology 79 (4): 607. doi:10.1080/11250003.2012.687402. 
  11. ^ McDougal, C. (1988). Leopard and Tiger Interactions at Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 85: 609–610.
  12. ^ Odden, M., Wegge, P., Fredriksen, T. (2010). Do tigers displace leopards? If so, why? Ecological Research 25 (4): 875–881.
  13. ^ Mondal, K., Gupta, S., Bhattacharjee, S., Qureshi, Q., Sankar, K. (2012). Response of leopards to re-introduced tigers in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Western India. International Journal of Biodiversity Conservation 4 (5): 228–236.
  14. ^ Singh, M., Raval, P. P., Dharaiya, N., Soni, V. C. (1999). Feeding niche of Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) and leopard (Panthera pardus) in the Gir Protected Area. Tigerpaper 26(2): 12–15.
  15. ^ Nabi, D. G., Tak, S. R., Kangoo, K. A., Halwai, M. A. (2009). Increasing incidence of injuries and fatalities inflicted by wild animals in Kashmir. Injury 40(1): 87–89.
  16. ^ Karanth, K. K., Nichols, J. D., Hines, J. E., Karanth, K. U., & Christensen, N. L. (2009). Patterns and determinants of mammal species occurrence in India. Journal of Applied Ecology 46(6): 1189–1200.
  17. ^ a b c d e Banks, D., Lawson, S., Wright, B. (eds.) (2006). Skinning the Cat: Crime and Politics of the Big Cat Skin Trade. Environmental Investigation Agency, Wildlife Protection Society of India
  18. ^ a b c Banks, D. (2004). The Tiger Skin Trail. Environmental Investigation Agency.
  19. ^ Wildlife Trust of India (2008). Leopard skin traders arrested in UP; eight skins recovered. Wildlife Trust of India, 29 July.
  20. ^ Ghosh, A. (2008). 27 leopard skins seized in 45 days. Wildlife Protection Society of India.
  21. ^ The Hindu (2008). Leopard skin, other wildlife products seized; five held.
  22. ^ Wildlife Protection Society of India (2009). Leopard Skins Seized in Dehradun, 18 March 2009.
  23. ^ The Indian Express Limited (2010). 4 with leopard hide held, role of politician to be probed, 12 October 2010.
  24. ^ a b Aryal, R. S. (2009). CITES : Implementation in Nepal and India, Law, Policy and Practice. Second edition. (PDF). Bhrikuti Academic Publications, Kathmandu. ISBN 99933-673-3-8. 
  25. ^ Yonzon, P. (2008). Conservation of Tigers in Nepal 2007. Wildlife Conservation Nepal
  26. ^ Wildlife Trust of India (2008). Cross-border wildlife traders arrested in Nepal with WTI’s help. Wildlife Trust of India, 12 May.
  27. ^ Wildlife Protection Society of India (2010). Leopards Battling For Survival In India. Wildlife Protection Society of India, 18 May 2010.
  28. ^ Sears, S. (2008)."Mumbai Leopards: Killers or Victims?" Wildlife Extra, 11 April 2008.
  29. ^ Sears, S. (2009). "The wild leopards of Oman and Nepal – And how to see them". Wildlife Extra, April 2009.
  30. ^ Athreya, V., Belsare, A. (2007). Human – Leopard Conflict Management Guidelines. Kaati Trust, Pune, India.
  31. ^ "Leopard Spotted Inside Bengaluru School". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
  32. ^ Dollar, Luke. "Leopards of India’s Silicon City". National Geographic (blogs). Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
  33. ^ Champion, F.W. (1934) What is the Use of Leopards? In: "The Jungle in Sunlight and Shadow". Natraj Publishers, New Delhi (1996).
  34. ^ Singh, A. (1982). Prince of Cats. Jonathan Cape, London. ISBN 0195654021. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]