All about leopards

Reflecting a decade’s worth of research, the conservation biologist Sanjay Gubbi’s authoritative book on leopards is at once a handbook on the big cat, a naturalist’s diary, a conservationist’s primer and a collection of yarns about the jungle.

Leopards are one of the four big cats of the Panthera lineage that share the ability to roar, the other three being lions, tigers and jaguars.


Rocky outcrops of the Deccan Plateau are critical habitats for leopards, especially outside protected areas.

In areas where leopards survive with other large predators such as tigers and dholes, they tend to spend more time on trees to escape competition aggression.

Leopard cubs are dependent on their mother for about 12 to 18 months before they leave to live independent, mostly solitary, lives.

Leopards are excellent tree climbers and can be called the Spider-Woman/Spider-Man of the large cat world.

Leopards have very strong shoulder muscles that help them climb trees and also hoist the carcass of their prey up trees.

Like most other large cats, leopards kill their prey by strangulation.

Leopards are quite shy and normally avoid coming out into the open during the daytime except to drink water.

Tens of leopard cubs are taken into captivity under the wrong assumption that their mothers have abandoned them. Then, the animals are forced to spend a lifetime in cages.

The strawberry leopard found in South Africa has a little-understood genetic condition called erythrism possibly caused by an overproduction of red pigments or an underproduction of dark pigments.

The melanistic leopard, or the black leopard, is not a different species; it appears black because of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair.

Sanjay Gubbi with a sedated leopard in Karnataka.

Studying leopards by placing radio collars on them is an important way to understand various aspects of leopard behaviour and human-leopard conflict.

Sanjay Gubbi taking morphometric measurements of a male leopard that was radio-collared to monitor its movements.

A leopard’s age can be estimated on the basis of the how worn down the teeth are and their colouration. Here, researchers measuring the length of the canine of a young leopard.

Pugmarks and other signs leopards leave in their habitats are good tools to study leopard distribution and other aspects of their biology.

The rosette patterns on a leopard’s flank are unique to each animal and help researchers when they have to distinguish between animals that look similar. Using camera trap images, researchers can estimate leopard numbers.

Human-leopard conflict in recent times in the country has forced the capture and translocation of hundreds of leopards.

In India, hundreds of leopards are captured and translocated annually in response to public pressure.

Although leopards are found in highly human-dominated landscapes, they face a high risk of mortality, including death caused by wire snares set to catch wild prey.

The persecution of leopards for their body parts, such as this pelt, is one of the serious threats they face.

“Leopard Diaries” (Westland Publications, Chennai, 2021, Rs.599) is arguably the first deeply researched book on leopards in the country.

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Leopards are one of the four big cats of the Panthera lineage that share the ability to roar, the other three being lions, tigers and jaguars.
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