1902 Encyclopedia > Leopard


LEOPARD, a name now commonly given to a well-known animal, called parcl (_____ and _____) or panther (_____) by the ancients. Leopard (leo-pardus) was a later term, originally applied, it is believed, to the animal now known as the cheetah or hunting leopard, upon the supposition that it was a creature intermediate between the lion and the true pard. If so it has been completely transferred to the more common species, and though in this sense a perfectly unnecessary and unmeaning term, has gradually superseded those by which this was originally known. Pard, so commonly used by Elizabethan authors, is now nearly obsolete in the English language, and panther has either become synonymous with leopard, or is used


vaguely for any similar large feline animal, even the puma of America.
Owing to their extensive geographical range, and the great variations, both in size, form, and coloration to which leopards are subject, zoologists have scarcely decided whether all the forms popularly referred to this animal should be regarded as specifically alike, or whether they should constitute several distinct species, but the prevailing opinion at present is in favour of the former view. The attempts to separate a larger and more robust variety, under the name of panther, from a smaller and more graceful form, to which the term leopard might properly be restricted, have failed owing to the existence of inter-mediate conditions which cannot be assigned definitely to either one or the other form. The most marked anatomical difference yet noted in different varieties of leopard is in the length of the tail as compared with that of the body, even the number of the caudal vertebrae showing variation, though within what limits, and whether correlated with other characters, has not yet been clearly ascertained. The fur of those specimens which inhabit the most northern confines of its range of distribution, as North China, is longer and softer, and the markings are consequently less distinct than on those from more congenial climates, and the well-marked variation thus produced has given rise to the idea of specific distinction.

Treating the species as one, it is the Felts pardus, Linn., of most systematic authors, belonging to the family Felidx (for the characters of which see MAMMALIA), and is one of the most typical members of the genus Felis, both in its structure and habits. It belongs to that section of the genus (which includes most of its larger members, as the lion and the tiger) in which the hyoid bone is loosely con-nected with the skull, owing to imperfect ossification of its anterior arch, and in which the pupil of the eye when con-tracted under the influence of light is circular, not linear as in the smaller cats. The teeth consist on each side of three small incisors, and a formidable large, conical, sharp-pointed canine above and below, and three premolars and one molar above, and two premolars and one molar below, all except the very small upper true molar with sharp compressed trenchant crowns. The skull can scarcely be distinguished, except by its inferior size, from that of the lion. There are seven cervical, thirteen dorsal, seven lumbar, three sacral, and usually twenty-three caudal vertebrae. The toes, five on the forefoot (of which the first or pollex is much shorter than the others) and four on the hind foot, are all armed with powerful, sharp-pointed, much-curved, compressed, retractile claws, The size of different individuals, as before said, varies greatly, the head and body usually measuring from 3J to 4^ feet in length, and the tail from 2| to 3 feet, but specimens have been met with which fall short of or exceed these limits. The ground colour of the fur varies from a pale fawn to a rufous buff, graduating into a pure white on the under parts and inside of the limbs. This is spotted over with dark brown or black ; the spots on the back and sides being arranged in rosettes or broken rings, which vary greatly in size and distinctness in different individuals, but are without the central spot seen in those of the jaguar. The spots on the under parts and limbs are simple and blacker than those on the other parts of the body. The bases of the ears behind are black, the tips buff. The upper side of the tail is buff, spotted with broken rings like the back, its under surface white with simple spots. The hair of the cubs is longer than that of the adults, its ground colour less bright, and its spots less distinct. Perfectly black leopards, which, however, in certain lights show the charac-teristic markings on the fur, are not uncommon. These appear to be examples of melanism, occurring as individual variations, sometimes in one cub out of a litter of which the rest are normally coloured, and therefore not indicating a distinct race, much less a species. These are met with chiefly in southern Asia. We are not aware of any recorded case from Africa, but the wild animals of that continent are not so well known.

In habits the leopard resembles the other large cat-like animals, yielding to none in the ferocity and bloodthirsti-ness of its disposition. It is exceedingly quick and active in its movements, but seizes its prey by waiting in ambush or stealthily approaching to within springing distance, when

it suddenly rushes upon it and tears it to ground with its powerful claws and teeth. It preys upon almost any animal it can overcome, such a3 antelopes, deer, sheep, goats, monkeys, peafowl, and is said to have a special liking for dogs. It not unfrequently attacks human beings in India, chiefly children and old women, but instances have been known of a leopard becoming a regular "man-eater." When favourable opportunities occur, it often kills many more victims than it can devour at once, apparently to gratify its propensity for killing, or only for the sake of their fresh blood. It generally inhabits woody districts, and can climb high trees with facility when necessary for its safety when hunted, but usually lives on or near the ground, among rocks, bushes, and roots and low branches of large trees.

The present geographical range of the leopard is very extensive, as it is met with in various suitable localities, where not too much interfered with by human cultivation, throughout the greater part of Africa from Algeria to the Cape Colony, and through the whole of the south of Asia from Palestine to China, including all India south of the Himalayas, and the islands of Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, and Borneo. Fossil bones and teeth, indistinguishable from those of existing leopards, have been found in cave deposits of Pleistocene age in Spain, France, Germany, and England. The evidence of the former existence of the leopard in England is described at length by Boyd Dawkins and Sanford in their British Pleistocene Mammalia (Palaeontographical Society, 1872). (w. H. F.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries