First-of-its-kind global analysis indicates that the iconic big cat is more vulnerable than orginally thought.
Leopards are big cats known for their agility and ability to adapt to various environments. It has been widely assumed that the animal is abundant in the wild, but the most detailed global analysis to date indicates that leopards are not as widespread as we thought. The animal has lost nearly 75% of its territory in the past decades.
Leopards were once widely distributed throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Not so long ago, the animal was occupying a vast range of 35 million square kilometers but now it is restricted to just 8.5 million square kilometers, indicating that the iconic big cat is more vulnerable than originally thought.
“The leopard is a famously elusive animal, which is likely why it has taken so long to recognize its global decline. This study represents the first of its kind to assess 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.” Lead researcher Andrew Jacobson Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said.
The findings were compiled after reviewing more than 1300 recent and historical records for more than three years.
“We began by creating the most detailed reconstruction of the leopard's historic range to date. This allowed us to compare detailed knowledge on its current distribution with where the leopard used to be and thereby calculate the most accurate estimates of range loss. This research represents a major advancement for leopard science and conservation.” Co-author Peter Gerngross said.
Though, leopards are more widespread than any other wild cat today but it does not necessarily mean that they are completely out of danger. Where the animal is thriving in parts of Africa, India and China, it is critically endangered in several regions across the Asia. Three of its subspecies are already disappeared from the world.
The global analysis reinforces the need of urgency in conservation efforts and can serve as a baseline in the regard.
Currently, leopards are listed as near threatened species in IUCN Red List because their populations are declining in large parts of their historic range. They are mostly threatened by habitat loss, hunting for trade and pest control. If the situation continues the same, they could soon qualify for Vulnerable status.