A master of disguise, surprise, stealth and strength. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the leopard. Panthera pardus, one of the five big cats, the leopards reputation precedes him. Formerly spread out across the globe, the fossil records finding him throughout Europe, we know now through DNA analysis that there are in total, 9 ‘recognised’ leopard sub species.
As I am sure many of you are aware, the Amur Leopard, is thought to be the world’s rarest big cats, with around 45 individuals left in the wild. As is often the case, some species in our world are endangered as a whole, some are endangered in certain countries and some in particular regions. One of our rarest species in the UK is, of course, the hen harrier. But in general across the globe, the species is not threatened. Leopards lack this luxury. As a whole, leopards in general are thought of as near threatened, with every sub species at significant threat of being endangered, if they have not reached that milestone already. So who are they? Well, let me introduce them:
The Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)- The Classic African Species: Near Threatened
The Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)- Found in Arabia (surely not!): Critically Endangered
The Persian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor)- Found in Central Asia: Endangered
The Javan Leopard (Panthera pardus melas )- Found in Java: Critically Endangered
Panthera pardus kotiya (Panthera pardus kotiya)- Found in Sri Lanka: Endangered
Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)- Found in India: Near Threatened
Indochinese Leopard (Panthera pardus delacourii): SouthEast Asia and Southern China: Endangered
North Chinese Leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis): Northern China: Population Unsure
Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis ):Primorye region of southeastern Russia and the Jilin Province of northeast China: Critically Endangered
Phew! That’s quite a list and a bit of a depressing one at that. I apologise if I’ve depressed you, but it was not my intention (ok so maybe it was a little). The fact is not a single one of the subspecies is in a healthy state. We could say that those that are lacking population data are fine and well and having a fabulous time, but if we’re honest, it’s not very likely.
But wait!! Hang on one minute here, I hear you say. What about the snow leopard?? What about the clouded leopard? How on earth have I forgotten them? Well, let me explain myself. Believe it or not, the snow leopard is not really a leopard. I can sense your narrowed eyes and folded arms, but it’s true. In fact, the snow leopard has many distinct differences from your typical leopard, but because of their similar appearance, we have called them leopard. Fair. Or confusing? Hmm, not sure. But alas! It is the truth. I’ll not bore you (or excite you, who knows!) with the details, but they have a different skull and tooth structure, different throat structure and they live in a boreal environment. It’s all a little bit hazy to be honest but there you have it. And the clouded leopard? Well, he is a different species. But if you really want to know (if you don’t already), the snow leopard is endangered and the clouded leopard is vulnerable. That didn’t help with the depression did it? Sorry.
In general, all most all of these species either have fragmented populations, or are remaining relic populations. Although there are different threats across different continents and countries, some are the same. Habitat conversion and persecution are two of the most common. Destruction of forested habitats and loss of prey due to competition with humans is occurring more and more. Trophy hunting and fear of the species are other factors impacting populations, along with hunting for traditional medicines and for their patterned coat. In many areas losses have been intense and with so few of some species remaining, we could be looking at several more extinctions. Leopards are known to be highly adaptable to many landscapes and situations, with many leopards nowadays living very close to humans, but we are stretching them to their limit.
But it’s not all doom and gloom and as we have caused the problem, we have stepped up to the plate to help this fabulous creature. Monitoring programs, which monitor progress, breeding and importantly, poaching, are being carried out in many countries. Organisations are working with locals to build a healthy relationship between species and people and progress is being made. Albeit, slowly. Leopards are not going to adapt anymore than they already have, a leopard ‘does not change it’s spots’, so we should. We need to do all we can to make sure that we can continue to boast having 5 ‘big cats’ native to our planet.
Now, my blood boils looking at this picture, so I am sorry if your’s feels as if it has been applied to a hot plate also. But this is just one threat that the leopard faces, both legally and illegally. So, let’s get involved. Help the Leopard!
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