Scientists warn that leopards have lost nearly 75 percent of their territory, and it's largely due to this one threat.
The Earth is currently experiencing species loss at a rate not observed for epochs, and the majestic leopard is no exception. According to a report from the New York Times, a new peer-reviewed study reveals that the animals have lost up to three-fourths of their historical range since the 18th century.
Leopards were once quite common, with populations living in Africa, Asia and parts of the Middle East spanning more than 13.5 million square miles. The recent study found that leopards’ current range extends over an area just 3.3 million square miles.
The study involved scientists from 15 universities and organizations including the Zoological Society of London, National Geographic, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Iranian Cheetah Society, among others.
The study examined the global populations of nine leopard subspecies to gain a picture of the big cats’ modern plight. The International Union for Conservation of Nature issued a recommendation that the leopard be reclassified as a “vulnerable” species as a result of the study’s findings. Currently, leopards are listed as “near threatened,” and a number of subspecies are listed as “critically endangered” and “endangered.”
If you haven’t guessed it by now, by far the biggest threat facing leopards is human activity. The cats are continually poached for their furs and as trophies, and are often killed by angry farmers trying to protect livestock. Habitat destruction as a result of human development squeezes and segments the animals’ range, and overhunting of prey animals by humans makes food hard to find.
“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 underlies the fact that they are increasingly threatened,” said Luke Dollar, one of the study’s co-authors.
A press release describing the details of the study can be found here.