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Leopard (Panthera pardus) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship

Courtship behavior

  • Initiated by females, most often (Laman and Knott 1997; Owen et al. 2010)
    • Presenting behavior (from Bailey 1993)
      • Female wasps, moving back and forth, in front of the male
      • She rubs her head and flank against him, twitching her tail
    • Not monogamous
      • Females may mate with multiple partners
        • Mate with 1-3 males (avg=1.3) between successive litters (Balme et al. 2013)
        • Possibly to discourage infanticide (see cub mortality below)
  • Duration of courtship
    • Lasts a few days, typically c. 3 (Owen et al. 2010)
      • Females may stray from own territories, following males during courtship (Owen et al. 2010)
    • Conception often requires multiple courtship events

Copulation occurs frequently during courtship (Owen et al. 2010)

  • Length of copulation
    • Mount to dismount: avg = 10 seconds
  • Copulations/courtship
    • 141-303, avg = 247
  • Copulatory behavior
    • Male mounts female, often biting her nape (Laman and Knott 1997; Hunter et al. 2013)
    • Both sexes growl continually during copulation (Laman and Knott 1997; Hunter et al. 2013)
    • Roaring follows successful copulation

Reproduction

Year round reproduction (Balme et al. 2013)

  • Regional records of seasonal reproduction
    • Reports of seasonality in some African and Arabian populations (Balme et al. 2013; Farhadinia et al. 2009; Owen et al. 2010)

Estrus (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Age of first estrus
    • 26 months (range: 18-36), in the wild: (Balme et al. 2013)
      • Identified by onset of scent marking and calling
  • Estrus behavior
    • Onset marked by increased friendliness (Sadlier 1966)
    • Head/body rubbing, rolling, and vocalization; based on captive observations (Sadlier 1966)
    • Increased vocalization and scent marking observed in wild leopards
  • Duration
    • 7-14 days, in captivity (Sadlier 1966)
      • Cycling c. every 45 days; range: 20-50 (Sadlier 1966)
  • Loss of litter followed rapidly by onset of estrus

Den (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Use landscape features or take over animal burrows
    • Den in thick vegetation, among rocks, tree roots, or caves
    • Often use aardvark burrows

Gestation & Birth

Gestation (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Duration
    • 90-106 days
    • Avg = 95.5 days, one study (Owen et al. 2010)

Interval between births (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Highly variable
    • 14-39 months
  • Dependent on success of previous reproductive attempt
    • 25 months following successful litter, 11 months following unsuccessful litters; one study following South African leopards for 32 years (Balme et al. 2013)
    • c. 16 months in two studies of African leopards (Balme et al. 2009a; Hes 1991)
    • 25 months for one Serengeti female (Schaller 1972)
    • To 36 months for a female in Kruger National Park (Bailey 1993)

Life Stages

Birth (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Litter characteristics
    • 2 cubs per litter typically; range: 1-3 (Balme et al. 2013)
      • No apparent gender bias
      • Litter size may decline with maternal age (Balme et al. 2013)
    • Maximum litter size: 6; recorded in captive animal
  • Weight at birth
    • 430-1000 g (15-35 oz), in captivity

Cubs (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Development
    • Eyes, open in 6-10 days
      • Blue in color
    • Weaned by c.100 days
      • Meat presented to cubs c. 65 days old
  • Care
    • Moved frequently by mother (le Roux and Skinner 1989; Seidensticker 1977)
    • Adoption of cubs possible by female relatives (Balme et al. 2012; Balme et al. 2013)
  • Mortality
    • 50-90% in wild during first year
    • Highest during first 3 months (Balme et al. 2013)
      • 55%, declining to 18 months, 37% (Balme et al. 2013)
    • No apparent differences between genders (Balme et al. 2013)

Subadult

  • Age of litter independence
    • Avg = 19 months (1.6 years), range: 9-31 months (Balme et al. 2013)
      • Inversely related to abundance of impala prey, one study (Balme et al. 2013)
  • Hunting by 11 months
    • Sibling pair known to kill an adult impala in one observational study in South Africa (le Roux and Skinner 1989)

Adult (from Hunter et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Males
    • Sexually mature: 24-28 months
    • Must hold a territory to reproduce; c. 3.5 years old
  • Females
    • Sexually mature: 24-28 months
      • Reproduction before 33-36 months uncommon
      • Age of first parturition (reproduction)
        • Avg = 46 months (3.8 years), range = 33-62 (Balme et al. 2013)
      • Spend c. 50% of adult life with dependent cubs (Stander et al. 1997)
        • Solitary often, c. 68% of time away from dependent cubs (Stander et al. 1997)
  • Reproductive throughout adulthood, both sexes
    • Female observed giving birth at 16.3 years of age, in the wild (Balme et al. 2013)
    • Cub survival declines with maternal age (Balme et al. 2013)

Longevity

Life expectency

  • In the wild
    • c. 9 years typically; for those surviving their first year of life (Balme et al 2013)
      • < 50% of individuals survive until 1 year of age
    • Females reaching 7 years of age have a good chance of surviving for a few more years (Balme et al. 2013)
      • Survival drops more gradually between 1 and 7 years of age before leveling off
    • Second large decrease in survival odds beyond age 16

Old leopards in the wild

  • Oldest individuals <20 years of age
    • 15.4 and nearly 17 years of age documented for two African leopards (Stander and Hansses 2001; Seymour 2004)
    • 18.6 years in one South African female (Balme et al. 2013)

Mortality

Cub mortality

  • Infanticide
    • Primary contributor to infant death (from Balme and Hunter 2013; Balme et al. 2013)
      • Accounts for c.40-50% of cub mortality
        • c. 33% of all offspring deaths
      • Unrelated males kill cubs most often
  • Predation
    • Lions (Panthera leo) and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) (Balme et al. 2013)
      • Combined mortality c. 42%, in one study (Balme et al. 2013)
      • Younger/smaller cubs target by hyena (Balme et al. 2013)
    • African rock python (Python sebae), banded mongoose (Mungos mungo), Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), Martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus), and honey badger (Mellivora capensis) - individually minor contributors (Balme et al. 2013)
  • Starvation and abandonment
    • Minor contributors under typical conditions (Balme et al. 2013)

Adults

  • Predation (Hunter et al. 2013)
    • Lion
    • Nile crocodile, African rock python uncommonly reported
    • Packs of spotted hyena, African wild dog
  • Defensive prey (Hunter et al. 2013)
    • Baboons
  • Disease (from Hunter et al. 2013)
    • Few confirmed mortalities in wild individuals
    • Known diseases of wild leopards
      • Canine distemper
      • Rabies
      • Bovine tuberculosis
      • Anthrax

Amur (P.p. orientalis) Subspecies

Reproduction

  • Mating (from Heptner and Sludskii 1992 cite an early report by Baikov in 1914)
    • Occurs in January, possibly at other times of the year
      • Cubs first seen March-April in Primorye
  • Litter characteristics (from Kelly et al. 2013)
    • Litter size reduced
      • 1 typical, suggested by some

Mortality (from Heptner and Sludkii 1992)

  • Disease
  • Predators
    • Tiger, gray wolf, and dhole

Courtship

two leopards courting

Courtship often lasts for several days. The male and female growl continually during mating, with the male often biting the female's neck, as shown in this encounter at the Bratislava Zoo.

Image credit: © Tambako the Jaguar from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Bailey (1993)
Balme and Hunter (2013)
Balme et al. (2009a)
Balme et al. (2012)
Balme et al. (2013)
Farhadinia et al. (2009)
Heptner and Sludskii (1992)
Hes (1991)
Hunter et al. (2013)
Kelly et al. (2013)
Laman and Knott (1997)
le Roux and Skinner (1989)
Owen et al. (2010)
Sadlier (1966)
Schaller (1972)
Seidensticker (1977)
Seymour (2004)
Stander et al. (1997)
Stander and Hansses (2001)

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