A research conducted by 14 scientists from 15 universities and organizations suggests that leopards have lost as much as three-fourths of their historical territory.
The study published in the journal PeerJ is the first to take a closer look the leopard’s global population. The researchers have studied 6,000 records from 2,500 locations and over 1,300 sources, reports Immortal News. This makes it the most comprehensive worldwide study of leopards.
The historical range the leopards used to roam has decreased by 63-75%, with only about 17% of it being legally protected. This caused a near extinction of the big cats on much of the Arabian Peninsula and China as well as a great decline in West and North Africa. Their once vast range of 13.5 million square miles now measures just 3.3 million square miles.
An author on the study, Andrew B. Stein, explains that the reclassification of leopards as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature should spark conservation efforts.
The reclusive nature of leopards has contributed to the lack of attention they have received from scientists and researchers, who considered them to be plentiful in the wild. “Leopards’ secretive nature, coupled with the occasional, brazen appearance of individual animals within megacities like Mumbai and Johannesburg, perpetuates the misconception that these big cats continue to thrive in the wild—when actually our study underlines the fact that they are increasingly threatened,” said Luke Dollar, a co-author and the program director of the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative.
Their main enemies seem to be various human activities, such as farming, hunting, poaching, and, in some areas, trophy hunting.
Apart from their cultural and historical value, the leopard occupies a key ecological role as the top carnivore, which makes them that much more important. “Biologists have to start picking up and be ready to invest a lot of sweat into counting these cats to show the world how rare they have become,” said Philipp Henschel, lion program survey coordinator for Panthera.