Leopard

The leopard  Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a "Near Threatened" species on the IUCN Red List.
Compared to other members of the Felidae family, the leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It is similar in appearance to the jaguar, but is smaller and more slightly built. Its fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the jaguar, but the leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed, and do not usually have central spots as the jaguars do. Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic (completely black or very dark) are known as black panthers.
The species' success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic hunting behavior, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph), its unequaled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains.
In antiquity, a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name, which is a Greek compound of λέων leōn (lion) and πάρδος pardos (male panther). The Greek word is related to Sanskrit पृदाकु pṛdāku (snake, tiger, panther), and probably is derived from a Mediterranean language, such as Egyptian.
A panther can be any of several species of large felids: the term can refer to cougars and jaguars in the American continents; and everywhere else, to leopards.
The generic component of its modern scientific designation, Panthera pardus, is derived from Latin via Greek πάνθηρ (pánthēr). Folk etymology held that it was a compound of παν (pan, all) and θηρ (beast).[ However, it is believed instead to be derived from an Indo-Iranian word meaning "white-yellow, pale"; in Sanskrit, this word's reflex was पाण्डर pāṇḍara, which was derived from पुण्डरीक puṇḍárīka (tiger, among other things), then borrowed into Greek
Like all of the feline family, the Panthera genus has been subject to much alteration and debate, and the exact relations between the four species as well as the clouded leopard and snow leopard have not been effectively resolved.
Carl Linnaeus placed leopards under the genus Felis as the binominal Felis pardus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most naturalists and taxonomists followed his example. In 1816, Lorenz Oken proposed a definition of the genus Panthera, with a subgenus Panthera using Linnaeus’ Felis pardus as a type specimen. But most disagreed with his definition, and until the beginning of the 20th century continued using Felis or Leopardus when describing leopard subspecies.In 1916, Reginald Innes Pocock accorded Panthera generic rank defining Panthera pardus as species.
It is believed that the basal divergence amongst the Felidae family occurred about 11 million years ago. The last common ancestor of the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard is believed to have occurred about 6.37 million years ago. Panthera is believed to have emerged in Asia, with ancestors of the leopard and other cats subsequently migrating into Africa. The researchers suggest that the snow leopard is most closely aligned with the tiger, whereas the leopard possibly has diverged from the Panthera lineage subsequent to these two species, but before the lion and jaguar. Fossils of early leopard ancestors have been found in East Africa and South Asia from the Pleistocene of 2 to 3.5 Ma. The modern leopard is suggested to have evolved in Africa 470,000–825,000 years ago and radiated across Asia 170,000–300,000 years ago.
Results of phylogenetic analyses of chemical secretions amongst cats has suggested that the leopard is closely related to the lion. Results of a mitochondrial DNA study carried out later suggest that the leopard is closely related to the snow leopard, which is placed as a fifth Panthera species, Panthera uncia.





Leopard