In recent years, scientists had believed that while tiger populations had decreased dramatically throughout Southeast Asia, leopard populations were stable. A new paper published in Biological Conservation refutes that belief. A survey of the current distribution of the Indochinese leopard showed that the unique species had disappeared from a massive 94% of its range in Southeast Asia.
Importantly, this paper identifies all the remaining viable populations of Indochinese leopards in Southeast Asia on a country-by-country basis as well as the sites where conservation action is most needed to prevent this subspecies from going extinct. We also examined the likely reasons for their range collapse, with poaching for the illegal wildlife trade being the greatest factor. Leopard parts are used as substitutes for tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine, so as tiger populations plummet, there is consequently a growing demand for leopard parts. Additionally, the practice of setting snares to catch animals for meat and other uses has exploded in many parts of the region, devastating leopard populations.
To assist with the conservation of the Indochinese leopard, Panthera has recently expanded its Leopard Program to include Southeast Asia, and this year we’ve started collaborations in 4 countries to begin long-term monitoring of leopards in the last remaining landscapes where they occur. After conducting surveys in Cambodia, we're now initiating surveys in one of the leopard’s last strongholds in Malaysia, in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia and Rimba. Nearly all leopards in Malaysia are black, so we’re using specially made Panthera cameras with an infrared flash to help illuminate their hidden spots, allowing for individual identification for accurate population estimates. Despite the tough field conditions in the jungles of Malaysia, which I’ll detail in future posts, our efforts are already producing important data about this unique and rare subspecies.