The leopard Panthera pardus is the most widespread member of the large felids and distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Far East, northwards to Siberia and southwards to Seri Lanka and Malaysia (Alderton, 2002; Uphyrkina, et al., 2001; Nowell and Jackson, 1996; Bothma, 1998; Myers, 1986). The wide occurrence of the species is mainly because of highly adaptable nature of these felids that enabled them to survive in a wide variety of climates and habitats (Beer et al., 2005; Bailey, 1993). Another reason could be their diverse diet and their ability to feed on a wide range of prey species (Sanei, 2007; Mills and Harvey, 2001; Grassman, 1997; Lekagul and McNeely, 1977).
Leopards are territorial species with a home range size which may vary from eight km² to up to 100 km² in different habitats (Kostyria et al., 2003, Grassman, 1999). They are highly nocturnal and secretive species (Eltringham, 1979) and famous for stalking their prey. However, studies have proved that in dense habitats they may use alternative hunting methods such as opportunistic chasing of prey rather than stalking it (Blame et al., 2007). Leopards are able to drag their kills (sometimes 2-3 times the weight of the leopard) up to the trees (Scheepers and Gilchrist, 1991; Hamilton 1976). This behavior may arise particularly in habitats with variety of large carnivores such as lions or hyenas.
Fur color and pattern of leopards are highly variable and there is a relationship between habitat type and their morphological variations (Mills and Harvey, 2001; Kitchener 1991; Pocock, 1932). Melanistic leopards are usually found in areas with denser trees and more humid weather. Particularly they are more common in rainforests of South-east Asia (Brakefield 1993; Medway, 1969; Kitchener 1991). Not surprisingly, camera trapped leopards in Malaysian tropical rain forests were also of melanistic individuals (Kawanishi, 2002; Kawanishi et al., 2010; Mark Rayan, Pers. Comm.). However, Sanei, (2007) reported two cases of melanistic leopards from Iran, from the North Khorasan province and Fars province.
Despite of high variation in leopard appearances in various habitats and geographical regions, previous studies suggested that subspecies of leopards could be revised to comprise nine subspecies instead of 27 known subspecies (Uphyrkina et al., 2001). The new classification is as follows: 1- Panthera pardus pardus, 2- Panthera pardus nimr, 3- Panthera pardus saxicolor, 4- Panthera pardus melas, 5- Panthera pardus kotiya, 6- Panthera pardus fusca, 7- Panthera pardus delacouri, 8- Panthera pardus japonensis, 9- Panthera pardus orientalis (Uphyrkina et al., 2001; Miththapala et al., 1996).
Historic range of leopard is shown in light and dark grey, its present range is shown in dark grey, distribution of revised subspecies is shown with capital letters as follows: P.p. pardus (PAR), P.p nimr (NIM), P.p saxicolor (SAX), P.p melas (MEL), P.p kotiya (KOT), P.p fusca (FUS), P.p delacouri (DEL), P.p japonensis (JAP), P.p orientalis (ORI). (Map source: Uphyrkina, O., Johnson, W.E., Quigley, H., Miquelle, D., Marker, L., Bushs, M. and O’Brien, S.J. 2001. Phylogenetics, genome diversity and origin of modern leopard, Panthera pardus. Molecular Ecology 10: 2617-2633.)
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