Leopards facing immense land crisis as extinction looms

5 May 2016

The natural land range of leopards has been reduced to just one quarter of its original size, with the cats’ incredibly versatility not enough to save it at the moment.

The elusive, beautiful leopard is losing the game of geography, big time. A new report has found that it’s global range – which takes in Asia, Africa and the Middle East – is dropping fast.

Down from 35m km2 to 8.5m km2, the 75pc reduction is putting a major strain on the nine subspecies of leopard, with three, in particular, in trouble.

Of the nine, three represent 97pc of the entire species’ population (African, Indian and Persian), while another three have lost up to 98pc of their historic range (Amur, Arabian and North-Chinese).


Leopard skin, claws and other parts are common items in the global illegal wildlife trade, via Corey Anco

“Leopards’ secretive nature, coupled with the occasional, brazen appearance of individual animals within mega-cities like Mumbai and Johannesburg, perpetuates the misconception that these big cats continue to thrive in the wild,” said Luke Dollar, co-author of the report.

The study shows that, to the contrary, the entire species is under threat and wild cat preservation group Panthera puts leopards in the same realm as tigers when it comes to extinction likelihood.

Panthera’s Philipp Henschel, co-author of the report, notes that conservation efforts on the cats are lagging, saying a “severe blind spot” missed the fact that leopards in south-east Asia face as “perilous” a future as the vanishing local tiger population.

“The international conservation community must double down in support of initiatives –protecting the species. Our next steps in this very moment will determine the leopard’s fate.”


Leopard with cub on the stones of Olare Orok River in Masai Mara in Kenya, via Shutterstock

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as, just like the current tiger initiatives have provided optimism, leopard conservation is perfectly poised to let the cats bounce back.

Leopards’ “remarkably adaptable” way of life means that the elimination of active persecution of the cats could be enough to jumpstart a regional recovery, according to Joseph Lemeris Jr, who worked on the paper.

“However, with many populations ranging across international boundaries, political cooperation is critical.”

We’ve looked in-depth at how tigers have responded to WWF, internationally-backed initiatives, and how wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park have proved remarkably successful. Who’s to say leopards won’t be next?

Main leopard image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic