Forgotten Species – Persian Leopard

Tigers and lions often get lots of attention in different types of media. Another felid, much less commonly known, is the beautiful Persian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor). Existing today only in fragmented populations in the mountain areas of Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia, Turkey and Southwest Asia, this subspecies is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List. Only between 800 and 1200 individuals are believed to still be found in the wild and they are currently declining.

Weighing up to 75kg, the Persian leopard is one of the largest of the nine subspecies of leopards in the world. It is an agile predator, capable of hunting down prey such as Bezoar goats, roe deer, Goitered gazelles, mouflons and wild boar in rocky areas. It uses its long tail to balance and its large front paws and claws to grab prey. Their hind legs are longer than their front legs. This enables them to take long jumps between rocky outcrops. They are most active at night and see very well in the dark. The Persian leopard also has a thick fur to keep it warm during long and cold winter months.

Their fur is also one of the reasons to why they are illegally hunted. Also, as with many large wild cats, body parts from the leopard are still being used in traditional Asian medicine. This illegal business generates large sums of money and is a tempting way to earn money for local people. The leopards are also killed when seen as a threat to domestic livestock such as goats and sheep. However, the main reason for the leopard to attack livestock is usually because of depletion of their natural prey base due also to illegal hunting.

Economic crisis, social changes and military activities in the area have all contributed to insufficient protection of the leopards and their habitat. Other human activities are also threatening their existence. Deforestation, agricultural expansion, livestock breeding and infrastructure development are a few examples. Some researchers today say that the leopards' chances for survival outside protected areas appear very slim.

People need to become more aware of what is going on and which problems exist. This is the only way we can find a sustainable way of coexisting with large predators on our planet.

Find out more about this and other forgotten species on the website of Photographers for Conservation, who have also provided EOCA with many wonderful wildlife images on their website.

Photography by: Corina Glijnis-Noom, Photographers for Conservation