Known for its incredible adaptability, the leopard has the largest range of all the big cats. Despite this, it is likely the most persecuted large cat in the world.
The State of the Leopard
The leopard is likely the most persecuted large cat in the world. Extinct in six countries and possibly extinct in six additional countries, leopards have vanished from at least 49 percent of their historic range in Africa and 84 percent of their historic range in Eurasia.
The species is threatened by illegal killing for their skins and other body parts used for ceremonial regalia, conflict with local people, rampant bushmeat poaching, and poorly managed trophy hunting.
Leopards are listed as "Near Threatened" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, though they will almost certainly be uplisted to "Vulnerable" in 2015. The leopard is classified as "Endangered" in Central Asia and Sri Lanka and "Critically Endangered" in the Middle East, Russia, and on the Indonesian island of Java.
"The leopard's beautiful skin is a primary reason it is the world's most persecuted big cat. And in my years of work to protect the leopards of southern Africa, I've realized the only way to stop the hunting of leopards for their skins is to address the problem head-on – with creativity and respect for local religion and culture."
- Tristan Dickerson, Coordinator, Panthera's Furs For Life Leopard Project
Panthera estimates 20,000 leopard skins are used as ceremonial regalia at religious gatherings in South Africa
Direct killing by humans poses a significant threat to leopards across their range. Leopards are killed for myriad reasons, including for their widely sought after skins, in retaliation for or to prevent the predation of livestock and game, and trophy hunting.
Leopards are often illegally killed for their iconic skins and other body parts, which are widely sought after for religious and ceremonial attire.
Poorly managed trophy hunting in East and Southern Africa is also contributing to, and in some instances directly driving, the decline in leopard populations.
Furthermore, leopards are frequently killed as a result of human-leopard conflict. Unlike other large carnivores, leopards frequently venture outside the borders of protected areas, increasing the likelihood that they will be killed in response to the real and perceived threat they pose to livestock.
Rampant bushmeat poaching is an additional, and rampant, threat facing the leopard. The bushmeat industry depletes leopard prey populations and poses a direct threat to leopards themselves when they are caught and killed in wire snares and traps set for other species.
Improve the status of leopard populations across at least 20% of their broad range
Panthera’s Project Pardus is the first conservation strategy to span the leopard’s range and was developed in partnership with the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. In addition to leading the two most comprehensive long-term studies of leopards ever undertaken, Panthera has collaborated with authorities from several range states to rigorously track leopard population trends to identify populations in need of conservation attention, and to inform and evaluate effective management of the species. Depending on the population, Panthera’s strategy includes reducing human-leopard conflict, stabilizing and increasing prey, and reducing unsustainable legal trophy hunting.
The image and spirit of the leopard is an inspiration to millions around the world, including myself… I feel privileged to give back to a creature that depends for its future on what we do now to save it… and I urge the wider world to join Panthera and me in this mission.