Vast Loss of Habitat Threatens Leopards

A large scale study published in PeerJ highlights the precarious status of leopards worldwide. The big cats have lost three-fourths of their historic range, with some subspecies' confined to habitat that representes less than 10 percent of their historic range. 

A female leopard in Cambodia triggers a researcher's camera trap. © Panthera & WWF Cambodia.

The findings have garnered attention in the popular media, with stories by National Geographic and the New York Times.  

Conservation biologist Alice Laguardia is a co-author on the study, and hopes that the findings and the media attention its attracted will spur action to conserve leopard habitat. 

"The international conservation community had not yet recognised the dramatic decline of leopards, especially in China," she said. "Our study has highlighted that the endemic supspecies P. p. japonensis has lost up to 98% of its historic range. Now it's up to us to make the best use of this knowledge and act urgently to reverse this trend."

Study co-author and SCB member Jan Kamler coordinates the Southeast Asia Leopard Program for Panthera. His research with Panthera has shown that the Indochinese leopard has lost 95 percent of its former range in Southeast Asia, putting this unique subspecies precariously close to extinction. The Indochinese leopard was not alone. The paper showed that leopard populations in other regions are suffering a similar fate.

"This was a shocking because the rapid decline of leopards has gone under the radar of all governments and NGOs, and most assumed this subspecies was still doing well," Kamler said.  "We hope that the news of the unprecedented decline of the leopard worldwide spurs conservation action by governments and NGOs to prevent further loss, with the long-term goal of recovering the populations."

In response to this conservation crisis, Panthera has expanded their Leopard Program to include Southeast Asia, and Kamler is establishing long-term monitoring nodes in the last remaining leopard populations in Southeast Asia, which includes sites in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand. He plans to include the Critically Endangered Javan leopard into the program next year.
Besides establishing nodes to keep track of leopard numbers with camera traps, he's working with governments and local NGOs to improve enforcement at priority sites in Southeast Asia. Kamler will present his research on leopard conservation at Conservation Asia 2016 in Singapore, the regional congress for the Asia Section of SCB. The meeting will take place from 29 June - 2 July.