The old saying “A leopard can not change its spots” alludes to one of the distinctive features of this member of the Panthera genus. These solitary carnivores come together only during mating season, but it is worth noting that females and males will associate with cubs after they have been weened.
Some leopards can grow to over six feet in length, and their tail can add another two or three feet to that length. Females can weigh up to 132-pounds, while males can achieve a weight of 198-pounds.
The leopard is pound-for-pound the strongest among big cat species, as displayed by their ability to climb trees with prey in tow.
What Is the Average Lifespan of a Leopard?
So, how long do leopards live? A leopard has an average lifespan between 10 and 12 years in the wild.
There is no discernable difference between sexes or subspecies. The variations in average lifespan have more to do with environmental factors and their food supply.
These large cats live longer in captivity. The average lifespan in these controlled settings increases to between 21 and 23 years. That is due to fewer environmental changes, consistent feeding, and less disease.
It is worth noting that these cats are elusive and secretive in their natural habitat. While biologists continue finding better ways to keep tabs on them, leopards are difficult to observe or track. That means that longevity in the wild might be skewing to higher or lower averages than those currently suggested.
Science currently recognizes nine distinct subspecies of leopards, with skull evidence indicated the possibility of two more.
These include African, Amur, Arabian, Indian, Indochinese, Javan, north Chinese, Persian (also referred to as Caucasian), and Sri Lankan.
Unlike other cat species like the cheetah, leopards exhibit genetic variation. That means that these cats are not limited in longevity due to physiological traits. They do not, however, display a difference in longevity between the subspecies mentioned.
Leopards described as “Black” or “Spotted” are not distinct subspecies but reflect variances in rosettes (spots) or melanism (black pigmentation). These traits also do not affect overall longevity.
A Leopard’s Lifecycle
A leopard’s lifecycle begins with pregnancy. Gestation lasts for 95 days, with the female giving birth to between two and six cubs.
Most liters will number between two and three cubs, which are born blind. Their eyes will open within nine days, and the cubs will suckle until they become weaned at around three months of age. It is at this time that they begin to follow their mother and learn to hunt.
While leopards can likely become self-sufficient by one, they will stay with the female for two years. At that time, the female is ready to mate again and pushes the cubs to establish their territories. Males become solitary, but females may create areas that overlap with their mothers.
Leopards will become sexually mature at this time (average of 2.5-years), with males reaching maturity before females.
Leopards will remain alone throughout their lives, coming together for mating. There is no set time of the year, but the rainy season is optimal for most regions. Female leopards will usually stop reproducing before they reach nine years old.
In the leopard’s native habitats, it has a sympatric existence with other apex predators. That can include several species of bears, dhole, hyenas, lions, tigers, wild dogs, and wolves.
Leopard cubs are especially vulnerable, and predation is a factor in the 40 to 50-percent cub mortality rate. Adults can become targets of bears, lions, and tigers big enough to kill and eat them.
As with most species in the wild, humans represent the biggest threat to a leopard. Hunters kill them for sport and their distinctive fur. Farmers and ranchers will kill leopards to protect livestock.
Human development is also a concern, as natural habitat changes for agriculture or other development.
What Is the Oldest Known Leopard?
Several sources list the oldest leopard in the wild to have reached 17 years old.
The oldest age for captive leopards is 27 years old. In North America, Roxanne was a 24-year old African leopard that passed away at a wildlife sanctuary in 2014.