Panthera pardus, the leopard, is widely distributed in Africa and tropical and southwestern Asia. It may be found in environments ranging from desert to tropical rainforest. Although more tolerant of human settlement than other large predators, P. pardus has become vulnerable to population fragmentation because of human persecution, the fur trade, and habitat loss. Panthera pardus is listed on CITES Appendix I; endangered status has been given to P. p. japonensis (North Chinese leopard), P. p. kotiya (Sri Lankan leopard), P. p. melas (Javan leopard), P. p. nimr (South Arabian leopard), P. p. orientalis (Amur leopard), P. p. panthera (North African), P. p. saxicolor (North Persian leopard), and P. p. tulliana (Anatolian leopard) by the U.S. and IUCN. All other populations are threatened.
Panthera pardus is a member of the pantherine lineage, which also includes P. leo (lion), P. tigris (tiger), P. onca (jaguar), Neofelis nebulosa (clouded leopard), and Uncia uncia (snow leopard). Fossils of their most recent common ancestor have yet to be identified, but mitochondrial gene sequence data suggest that species divergence began 6 million years ago. Phylogenetic analyses of the subspecies of P. pardus indicate an African origin, which corroborates the paleontological evidence. The earliest record of P. pardus is from Laetoli, Tanzania, with a date of roughly 3.8 million years before present. By 900,000 years ago, P. pardus reached Eurasia.
Leopards cache large kills (e.g., a 50 kg [110 lb.] impala) by dragging the carcass into cover before commencing to feed. This behavior has made Panthera pardus a significant contributor to the hominid-bearing bone deposits in South African caves. In fact, a cranium from Swartkrans of a juvenile hominid, Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus, has puncture marks matching the spacing of the lower canines of P. pardus. For a leopard to carry large prey into a tree or cave, it requires powerful head and neck activating musculature. The occiput of P. pardus has deeply incised scars demarcating the insertion areas of well-developed biventer cervicis (elevates neck and head) and the rectus capitis dorsalis major and medius musculature (head elevators).
About the Species
This specimen, a male, was collected from the Northwest Territories, Kenya by J. A. Davidson in 1959. It was made available to The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility for scanning courtesy of Drs. Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Jessica Theodor, Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, University of California, Los Angeles. Funding for scanning was provided by Dr. Van Valkenburgh and by a National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative grant to Dr. Timothy Rowe of The University of Texas at Austin. This leopard is one of several felid carnivorans included in ongoing research of respiratory turbinates by Drs. Van Valkenburgh and Theodor.
About this Specimen
The specimen was scanned by Matthew Colbert and Richard Ketcham on 6 December 2000 along the coronal axis for a total of 477 slices, each slice 0.5 mm thick with an interslice spacing of 0.5 mm. The dataset displayed was reduced for optimal Web delivery from the original, much higher resolution CT data.
Bailey, T. N. 1993. The African leopard: ecology and behavior of a solitary felid. Columbia University Press, New York. 429 pp.
Brain, C. K. 1981. The hunters or the hunted? An introduction to African cave taphonomy. The University of Chicago Press. 365 pp.
deRuiter, D. J., and L. R. Berger. 2000. Leopards as taphonomic agents in dolomitic caves--implications for bone accumulations in the hominid-bearing deposits of South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science (London) 27:665-684.
Johnson, W. E., and S. J. O'Brien. 1997. Phylogenetic reconstruction of the Felidae using 16S rRNA and NADH-5 mitochondrial genes. Journal of Molecular Evolution 44:S98-S116.
Lee-Thorpe, J., J. F. Thackeray, and N. van der Merwe. 2000. The hunters and the hunted revisited. Journal of Human Evolution (London) 39:565-576.
Mattern, M. Y., and D. A. McLennan. 2000. Phylogeny and speciation of felids. Cladistics 16:232-253.
Miththapala, S. 1992. Genetic and morphological variation in the leopard (Panthera pardus): a geographically widespread species. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Florida, Gainesville. 271 pp.
Myers, N. 1976. The leopard Panthera pardus in Africa. IUCN Monograph No. 5. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Morges, Switzerland. 79 pp.
Ray, S., G. K. Dutta, and M. Ray. 1997. Anatomy of the mandible of the leopard (Panthera pardus). Indian Veterinary Journal 74:765-767.
Salles, L. O. 1992. Felid phylogenetics: extant taxa and skull morphology (Felidae, Aeluroidea). American Museum Novitates 3047:1-67.
Savage, R. J. G. 1978. Carnivora. Pp. 249-267 in: Evolution of African Mammals. Maglio, V. J., and H. B. S. Cooke, editors. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 641 pp.
Turner, A. 1990. The evolution of the guild of larger terrestrial carnivores during the Plio-Pleistocene in Africa. Geobios (Lyon) 23:349-368.
Turner, A. 1997. The big cats and their fossil relatives. Columbia University Press, New York. 234 pp.
Van Valkenburgh, B., J. Theodor, A. Friscia, and T. Rowe. 2001. Respiratory turbinates of carnivorans revealed by CT scans: a quantitative comparison. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 21:110A.
Panthera pardus species accounts provided by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group:
The brain of Panthera pardus (Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections website)
Panthera pardus on The Animal Diversity Web (The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)
Panthera pardus on the Cyber Zoomobile
Panthera pardus on Big Cats Online
Felidae on the Cyber Zoomobile