Leopard

Leopard

Leopards are one of the so called big 5 of Africa (big game hunting) and are often an animal that people are really keen to see).Looking beautiful when we manage to spot it, its look is specifically such that allows it to blend into the shadows, making it as hard to see in the dappled light that is filtering through the leaves of a tree. Leopard populations have declined by at least 25% in Africa over the last 30 years.

Leopards were once found from western Turkey all the way to the far East of Russia, and are still found from the southern tip of Africa to the frozen lands of northern Siberia. What is incredible, is that its yellow and black coat is a good camouflage through an incredibly wide range of habitats, from snow, desert, rainforest and Savannah. It should be noted, that in the rainforests of the Malaysian Peninsular as much as 50% of the population is made up by black or melanistic leopards, seemingly because in the deep shadow of the rainforest there is a large example of this. As well as covering leopards, we will cover the subspecies (there are nine recognized subspecies of leopards including African, Indian, Javan, Arabian, Amur, North Chinese, Caucasian (also called Persian), Indochinese and Sri Lankan). Given the huge area of the planet where Leopards live, it is not surprising that there are this many subspecies.

Given the wide range of leopard habitats they differ in size very dramatically. It is also obviously true that their conservation status is that a variety of different levels. As search I will try to cover as many of these different habitats and subspecies as possible (over time).

Due to their habit of staying in cover, it is far harder to get an accurate idea of how many leopards are left, but below I will attempt to do that.

Kruger, the Serengeti, south Luangwa all have around 1000 leopards. Indeed it is even thought that the population of cape leopards, scattered across the western cape is around this number of 1000.

It is certainly true that Leopards are a far harder thing to see when you are in the bush, however with perseverance and some night drives, you should get at least a couple leopard sightings on a safari holiday.

Below we will list the currently recognized subspecies of leopard. We hope in the future to have links to places where you can see each of these. Each of these will appear within its page, access them by clicking on the tabs

Leopard subspecies pages

African Leopard

  • 50 years ago, Africa was estimated to have 700,000 the current number is nearer to 50,000. This is not evenly spread, such that while 34 countries are thought to still host them. It should be noted, that the so called Barbary leopard is included in this subspecies. While there is still much debate (not least the suggestion that the Sahara might have stopped gene from from the Barbary region to the rest of Africa. In a similar way, there is discussion on a variety of different populations of leopards, but these will not get their own tab, until they are declared as recognized subspecies (there was, at one time as many as 37 claimed different subspecies of leopard spread across Africa and Asia, many were lost, when the genetic differences were found to be so small).

Now, obviously, the decline from 700,000 leopards to just 50,000 has been substantial, which suggests a potential for recovery, however the majority of these would have roamed outside protected lands, and with an increased population (the human population has tripled in the last 50 years, from just over 400 million to over 1.2 billion in the same time. As such, much wilderness has been lost to human habitation and crop growing. As you can see, Leopards have declined a great deal more, around the edge of the Sahara, than anywhere else. It should be noted, that many range maps cover the majority of sub-Saharan Africa as Leopard range, when this is clearly not the case.

It is listed as Vulnerable by CITES with a current population of estimated 50,000. Its decline and future threats come down to a number of issues:

  1. African Leopard have suffered from habitat loss and fragmentation, increased illegal wildlife trade, decline in prey and poorly managed trophy hunting.
  2. Prey species are increasingly under threat as a result of the  unsustainable human bushmeat trade across large parts of Africa’s savannas (if we eat the leopards prey, then they cannot). Leopards are also killed illegally for their widely sought-after skins and other body parts used for ceremonial purposes.
  3. African Leopard have limited levels of ecological resilience to human-caused habitat fragmentation, and as a result are more restricted to conservation areas – future decline is anticipated unless conservation efforts are undertaken. Being apex predators they each need quite some space (even in good habitat, at least 5 square miles) and a viable population is usually considered at least 100 animals, many protected areas are too small, requiring Leopards to leave the reserve and cross the human landscape in order to reach others.
While in theory, hunting areas (where these Leopards can be shot for sport) are well managed and large enough to have self-sustaining populations, this is not always the case. Zambia and South Africa have both banned hunting in recent years, but before this, there were a number of hunting areas that bordered places like the Kruger, then when the leopard crosses a line it can be shot.  The ban in South Africa only lasted 2 years, between 2016 and 2018, however, at the moment South Africa is only allowed to hunt 150 per years, which is unlikely to effect the population. Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique all still have hunting operations, but these vary in how safe the population is. Apart from the 2 destinations at the top of the page, a longer list is coming, which will be at the bottom of the page.

The largest leopard populations include:

Kafue national park

      • Limpopo transfrontier park 1000
      • Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park 150
      • Western province is thought to have 500, while the eastern province is thought to have 400
      • I believe that it could reasonably be argued that a further 1000 or at a stretch 2000 might live in small reserves which are scattered                                       across the country       

That gets us to a very generous estimate of 4000. Official population estimates range between 2813-11632 (hard to give credibility to the upper estimate). However, it would suggest that there is a great deal of space for this population to recover.



      • Serengeti National park                                        1000
      • Nyerere national park (formerly Selous)      4000  
      • Ruaha National park                                               4000
      • Ngorogoro and ecosystem                                 1000
Hunting areas are estimated at 300,000 square km, and Leopards are thought to live in these areas, but their density ranges from 0.1 per 100km to 30 over this same area. This means that hunting zones can add anything from 300 leopards up to 9000. I mention this, because in other parts of Africa hunting blocks have been hired by those wanting to run photography safaris, and this may be the case in parts of Tanzania.
  • Massai mara: only around 30 resident Leopards in the area (this is considered as healthy for the reserve)
  • Tsavo is a huge and relatively healthy wilderness area, suggesting that there should be a relatively large leopard population, certainly hundreds perhaps more
  • Samburu, while not large, it is considered one of the best places to film Leopards
  • Amboselli: few Leopards within the park, but conservancies in the area are good.
  • Ol Pejete Conservancy hosts around 20 Leopards.
  • Other destinations include: Marsabit National Park, Nasolot National Park, Mwingi National Park, Kora National Park, Lewa Wildife Conservancy, Meru National Park, Mwea National Reserve, Bisanadi National Park and Simba Hills National Park
 
As recently as 1981, the leopard population of this country alone, was estimated at 12-18000. We hope to greatly increase the number of destinations we list, do add yours, we would love to help people find you. Click on list your wild place at the top of the home page (or Here). If anyone has better numbers for the Leopard in Kenya, do let me know

The current best estimate of the Leopard population found in Botswana is thought to be around 4295, though this estimates suggests as high as 6700 and as low as 1893.

Chobe national park and the Okovango delta are both part of the KAZA transfrontier park, a vast mosaic of protected areas.

Nxai pan and Makgadikgadi par are also in the southern reaches of this vast area. As such the upper estimate is certainly possible, though the area still needs some recovery.

Kafue: a hotspot in Zambia, though population estimates are hard to find

In 2019 they estimated 11,733 though this was down from 14154 in just 2011. There are a variety of both reserves and national parks to visit in this country. We would love to list some, do get in touch.

Indian Leopard

The number of Indian leopards in the wild is a worryingly low number. Some places suggest around 9500, while others suggest 12,000-14,000 (remember that the area of India is 10% of Africa, so this is far better by area.

The Indian leopard is considered Vulnerable in India, Bhutan, and Nepal but Critically Endangered in Pakistan. The map to the right shows its current range.

We currently have no places listed to see this subspecies, but we hope to add some soon. Do list your site, if you run one (click here, or at the top of the page).

Below here, you will find any news that mention this species. Below that is a video of this species in the wild, and below that you will find any destinations that we have added, to help you plan your trip.

Javan Leopard

The Javan leopard is (unsurprisingly) a leopard subspecies that is restricted to the island of Java. Java has already lost the Javan tiger, and it is currently estimated to be between 188-571 (an incredibly wide range for an estimate). Unfortunately, Java is the most populous island in the world, and as such only 14% of the rainforest survive, which is where the leopard lives. As such, the future of this subspecies is not great – there is also little space for the population to increase.

Now, the sad fact, is that in being this fragmented, and the island having such a high population (largest human population for an island) even reserves that are close together may well be impossible to cross.

Should we be able to list any places to try to see this highly endangered species, they will be added lower down the page.

Arabian Leopard

 In 2008, the size of this subspecies left in the wild was thought to be between 45 and 200. As such, it is perhaps not surprising that this subspecies has been critically endangered since 1996.

  • Around 50 survive in Oman, living in the mountain ranges of Jabal Samhan, Jabal Qara and Jabal Qamar.
  • Hajjah and Al Mahrah governorates in Yemen

The Negev desert is thought to have lost its last leopard around 2007 and Saudi Arabia (supporting 200 recently) maybe extinct. 

This unfortunately means that tourism around this species is not easy to come across. I will as always add it below if/when I find any. What is certainly true, is visiting areas which might still have a few of this rare leopard and making it clear you are interested in them, will give locals a reason to preserve what is left, though in many places it may well be too late.

Persian or Caucasian Leopard

Caucasian (also called Persian) Leopard)                                                                                                               

Restricted to the Iranian Plateau and surrounding areas encompassing Türkiye, the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan.  

Other names include Anatolian leopard, Persian leopard, Caucasian leopard, Balochistan leopard and Asia Minor leopard

Status: endangered (since the 1960s) and currently has a population of around 1000 individuals. If this species is mentioned on this blog, any articles will appear below. Below that, is a video of this rare species, and below that, I will add any links that might help you see this species in the wild (should you work in wildlife guiding or tourism where this leopard is found do get in touch – click here .  As with other big cats, living in these animals shadow is not always easy, but I hope that over time, we can reach a point where the money coming in is good compensation for the complexities of living near animals like this.

Indo-Chinese Leopard

The Indo-Chinese leopard is found at latitudes similar to the Indian Leopard but is further east. They are rare outside protected areas, but at the current time, there is enough protected land to not threaten their long-term survival. On the Malay peninsular, the frequency of black (or melanistic) leopards can be as high as 1 in 2, in comparison to Africa, where as little as 1 in 1000 is born black. Indeed, this has meant that while white tigers are all closely related, and their coat makes their survival hard, there are no pockets of them in the wild. Even with the Amur tiger, they live without snow for more of the year than they have with it, so even here it is not a big advantage to have white fur. On the other hand, a black leopard can fade into the shadows, which means that for most leopards it is an advantage. In Africa, most of the time leopards spend their days sleeping high in a tree which means that it is only at night when they need camouflage, so you would think that being black would be advantageous to give birth to a black leopard dynasty in Africa, but apparently not.

There are a good range of reserves across where they are found, which means that provided they are not hunted, they should be able to survive into the future.

Sri Lankan Leopard

Only described in 1956, they are relatively similar to the Indian Leopard, and were thought to be part of that subspecies until then. There are only 800 of this subspecies of leopard, and they were listed as vulnerable in 2020, and unfortunately it is thought to still be declining. It is thought, that as a result of being the apex predator on the island, they have got bigger.

Melanistic leopards are considered particularly rare. Indeed it was only 2019 that the first confirmed in the wild in the country.

Frame from a camera trap in the Amur range

Amur (or Siberian) Leopard

Perhaps one of the hardiest leopard subspecies, it is hard to remember that this animal is incredibly similar to its cousin that roams the hot areas of the Savannahs in Africa.

What a short period of time makes for the standing for a species. Back in 2001 when planet earth was first released, they had managed to film them in the wild

What is more impressive is that at the time there were only 30 in the wild.  Setting out to find a secretive animal, when there are only 30 left is quite impressive.

Conservation has gone wonderfully in the time that has elapsed since, with an estimated population of at least 100. When I say at least, this is a likely low estimate. With a 2019 estimate of 46 of these cats in China, and a 2022 survey identifying 125 individuals. That gives an estimated combined population of 171, or almost 6 times increase in population over just 20 or so years. Russia set up the land of the leopard reserve, and the reserve below was set up by China, across the border.

The below video clip, is a video filmed in China which caught a female with 2 cubs in China, possibly the first cubs to be born in China in as long as 50 years.

North- China Tiger

North China Leopard

Records from before 1930 suggest that this species of Leopard used to live near Beijing and in the mountains to the North-west. The wild population is estimated at around 110, so is one of the more endangered leopard species in the world. It is thought that this population and the Amur Leopard species were connected until just a few hundred years ago. As such, it may well be possible to boost genetic variability if that were to become necessary.

As with some of the other subspecies of the leopard, there appears to be little tourism centred around this species, but should I find any, this will appear at the bottom of the page as well. Above that, you will find our regular list of any articles on this subject and a video of this species in the wild.

Like many cats – both big and lesser cats, they have rare colourings. These are not separate species, instead they are either melanistic, or albino.

 These are not common in most ecosystems (though it should be noted that in useful place, it can be common – one example is the black leopard in Malaysia which has around 50% black)

 

Destinations

Limpopo Transfrontier park including Kruger sabi sands and other conservation areas
Greater Serengeti

Black leopard sighting Kenya

Will  Burrard Lucas,  a British wildlife photographer, has taken the wildlife jackpot shot and managed to photograph a wild black leopard in Africa, in Laikipia

Read More »

Holiday absence

Hello!

I have been away with my family, and for the time being this is a one man show. I am hoping that as restrictions on travel list, it might become a bigger enterprise – with your support. We have some wildlife destinations already listed but hope to greatly expand this.

Our holiday was in Devon in the south west of the UK, close to the river otter.

This river is famous in the UK as back in 2008 a family of beavers appeared. They became quite a popular attraction.

Continue reading “Holiday absence”

See Animals Wild