Leopards have lost as much as 75 percent of its historic range, according to a publication in the scientific journal PeerJ. This study lasted about three years and was conducted by the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, international conservation charities the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Panthera, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cat Specialist Group.
This study represents the first known attempt to produce a comprehensive analysis of leopards’ status across their entire range and all nine subspecies, where it is also found that not only there are several subspecies and regional populations critically endangered but also the overall loss of range is much greater than it was estimated.
Also, researchers found that leopards historically occupied a vast range of approximately 35 million square kilometers (about 13.5 million square miles) throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. However, in these days, they are restricted to approximately 8.5 million square kilometers (about 3.3 million square miles).
A three-year study
As said before, the scientists of this study spent about three years reviewing more than 1,300 sources on the leopard’s historic and current range. The results apparently confirm conservationists’ suspicions that, while the entire species is not yet as threatened as some other big cats, leopards are facing a multitude of growing threats in the wild and three other subspecies have already been almost completely eradicated.
Andrew Jacobson, of ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, University College London and the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative was the lead author of this study.
He stated that leopards are famously tricky animals, which is likely why it has taken so long to recognize their global decline. This study also represents the first of its kind to determine the status of the leopard across the globe and all nine subspecies.
“Our results challenge the conventional assumption in many areas that leopards remain relatively abundant and not seriously threatened,” said Jacobson.
Leopards beyond Africa
While leopards in North and West Africa are facing pretty tough times, their relatives in a great part of the Arabian Peninsula and some other vast areas of the former range in China and Southeast Asia have almost completely disappeared as habitat there has plummeted by nearly 98 percent.
But there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Even with the historical declines in the Caucasus Mountains and the Russian Far East or Northeast China, the leopard’s population in these areas appears to have stabilized and may even be rebounding with significant conservation investment, through the establishment of protected areas and increased anti-poaching measures, meaning that leopards have their safe spot.