Sunday 21 January 2018

Leopards have lost 75% of historic range, study finds

A critically endangered Amur leopard (Zoological Society of London/PA)
A critically endangered Amur leopard (Zoological Society of London/PA)

Leopards have lost 75% of their historic range across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with three Asian subspecies facing extinction, according to a new study.

A three-year review of data published in the scientific journal PeerJ challenges the conventional assumption that the spotted big cats are thriving in the wild.

Instead, it says leopards have almost disappeared from vast ranges in China, South East Asia and much of the Arabian peninsula, while African leopards face mounting challenges in the north and west.

They are threatened by spreading farmlands, declining prey, conflict with livestock owners, trophy hunting and illegal trade in their skins and teeth.

The study was carried out by several groups, including the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative, the wild cat conservation organisation Panthera and the Zoological Society of London.

Leopard skins are sometimes worn as a symbol of power by African chiefs, including South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.

The animals' rangelands have shrunk from 13.5 million square miles (35 million square kilometres) in 1750 - before the colonisation of Africa and the spread of firearms - to about 3.3 million square miles ( 8.5 million square kilometres), the study estimates.

It will be used to update the endangered species list curated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which was also involved in the study.

The research is "the single most authoritative and exhaustive review of this kind", said Guillaume Chapron, associate professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science.

Its findings are "a shock as leopards were often believed to be more adaptable to human impacts ... than other species such as tigers and lions".

Press Association

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