Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

  • The most abundant cetacean in the world, with around 6 million (it should be noted that there are 1350 humans in the world, for every individual common dolphin).

Despite this fact and its name, the common dolphin is not thought of as the model dolphin (that honour goes to the bottlenose dolphin due to its popular appearances in aquaria and the media). It did, however, feature heavily in Ancient Greek and Roman art and culture, most notably in a mural painted by the Greek Minoan civilization.

It is currently the only member of the genus Delphinus. The common dolphin belongs to the subfamily Delphininae, making this dolphin closely related to the three different species of bottlenose dolphins, humpback dolphins, striped dolphins, spinner dolphins, clymene dolphin, spotted dolphins, fraser’s dolphin and the tucuxi and guiana dolphin.[5] The common dolphin was originally categorized into two different species (now thought to be ecotypes), the short-beaked common dolphin and the long-beaked common dolphin. However, recent evidence has shown that generally long-beaked dolphins of this species have originated from the short-beaked population, and therefore there is no close links between different long-beaked dolphins in any part of the world.

Currently, the common dolphin is divided into four subspecies:

  • D. d. delphis, the nominate subspecies
  • D. d. bairdii, the Eastern North Pacific long-beaked common dolphin
  • D. d. ponticus, the Black Sea common dolphin
  • D. d. tropicalis, the Indo-Pacific common dolphin

A number of fossils were erroneously placed in the same genus, but this has since been corrected. 

Common dolphins can live in aggregations of hundreds or even thousands of dolphins,though are often seen in groups numbering several hundred individuals (with subgroups consisting of 20-30 individuals). Occasionally, different groups will come together to form mega-pods which can consist of over 10,000 dolphins – quite a site to witness. Genetic studies in the Northeast Atlantic suggest that common dolphin pods generally do not consist of close kin, but rather of members that are not closely related. Unlike many delphinids, common dolphins do not live in a matriarchal society. That being said, closely related individuals are usually found in similar geographical locations fairly consistently, providing evidence that this species displays site fidelity (at least in the North-eastern Atlantic). Male common dolphins display greater site fidelity in relation to their kin than females.

Common dolphin pod structure often consists of nursery pods (which includes females and calves), bachelor pods (consisting of all males) and mixed groups of males and females, including sub-adults and calves. Genetic evidence seems to indicate that common dolphins live in fission-fusion societies, where dolphins form pods that are not necessarily stable and do not necessarily consist of related individuals. It is not known if common dolphins form lifelong bonds with other individuals  like the long-term male alliances seen in bottlenose dolphins.

There is some evidence that common dolphins use signature whistles, similar to that of the bottlenose dolphin. These whistles are believed to serve as an acoustic label the dolphin equivalent of a name.  It takes approximately 1 year for a calf to learn its signature whistle after which it remains stable for the rest of a dolphin’s life.

In South Africa, as many as 29 common dolphin signature whistle types were detected. However, it was difficult to determine if each dolphin had its own signature whistle due to the vast number of dolphins present (over 1,000) and anthropogenic background noise. Additionally, considering the vast number of dolphins present and  taking into account their feeding and diving behaviour, it appears that common dolphin signature whistles are also used for group cohesion. Another hypothesis for the function of signature whistles, is that they serve as a beacon for lost individuals.

Common dolphins sometimes associate with other dolphin species, such as pilot whales (note, not actually whales). In the Gulf of Corinth, common dolphins frequently display mixed species association, especially with striped and Rissos’ dolphins. Over one third of all dolphin sightings in the gulf consisted of mixed species associations that partially consisted of common dolphins. In mixed species associations, the ratio of striped to common dolphins ranged from 6-11:1. When Rissos’ dolphins were present (there would usually be only one or two individuals), it appeared that much of their scars were the result of interactions between striped and spinner dolphins. In much of the interactions, the Rissos’ dolphins would chase and herd the common dolphins toward the boat, while the common dolphins would try and swim under the Rissos’ dolphin. When groups of common and striped dolphins would charge at each other, the Rissos’ dolphin would chase the striped dolphins. Sometimes these interactions appeared to be playful, and at other times aggressive. Synchronized swimming and surfacing was commonly observed. These interactions take place in the deepest part of the Gulf, furthest from shore and usually consist of a total of 60 dolphins from all three species.

There have been 15 cases of common dolphin and striped dolphin hybrids being recorded. Genetic and observational evidence has demonstrated that the hybrids are fertile and are capable of not only reproducing with other hybrids, but are capable of reproducing with each of the parent species. Striped dolphins have been known to mate with other dolphins, as the Clymene dolphin is the result of hybrid speciation between striped and spinner dolphins. However, this is unlikely to happen with common dolphins, as their population in the Gulf of Corinth is too low. Common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins have been known to interbreed in captivity. There is one confirmed case of a hybrid between a bottlenose and common dolphin in Southern Spain, an important feeding ground for both species. The mother was a female bottlenose dolphin (dubbed as Billie) who has spent 10 years within a common dolphin pod. Billie was observed assisting common calves reach the surface at three different intervals and would babysit the calves after the mother went through labour. They have also been observed bow riding on baleen whales, and they also bow ride on boats. They are fast swimmers and breaching behaviour and aerial acrobatics are common with this species. They are also known to display altruistic behaviours to support injured members.

The short-beaked common dolphin is pregnant for 10 to 11 months. The new-born calf has a length of 70 to 100 centimetres (2.3 to 3.3 ft) and weighs about 10 kilograms. For the Black Sea population, weaning occurs at between five and six months, but occurs later (up to about 19 months) in other areas. Typical interbirth interval ranges from one year for the Black Sea population to three years for eastern Pacific Ocean populations. Age of sexual maturity also varies by location, but can range between two and seven years for females and three and 12 years for males. No evidence exists of any major reproductive differences between the two species. In captivity, the long-beaked common dolphin has hybridized with the common bottlenose dolphin . One of the hybrids has been bred back to a bottlenose dolphin, demonstrating such hybrids are fertile.

Find our news section below this video of a megapod of common dolphins

Side striped jackal

Side-striped jackal

The side striped jackal is found across a larger area than the black backed jackal, but are generally harder to see in the places where they are found. I have been lucky enough to see

them once or twice, in the Kruger. They are generally easier to spot when you are further north in the park (or at least we found that).

Mostly nocturnal, they are (like the black backed jackals) scavengers and will eat almost anything that they come across. They are omnivorous so can take advantage of fruit and other things that they will find. In terms of prey, they are capable of killing smaller antelope, as well as springhare and small mammals in the dry months, while in the wet months they eat a large amount of invertabrates.

They are also larger than the black backed jackals, but are naturally timid.

In terms of advice on seeing them, make sure you are in a reserve where they are found, and then try to find yourself in an area with less traffic. We have found, that while sightings are less common, they are often more exciting when they do occur.

Fraser’s dolphins

Frasers Dolphin

Generally found in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, though also seen in Indian and Alantic dolphin. It is also known as the Sarawak dolphin. When fully grown it weighs around 200kg and around 2.75m in length. From a distance it can be confused with a striped dolphin which lives in these waters. Usually found in large groups from 100-1000. Below is an encounter between a large group of frasers dolphins and a sailing boat.

While sightings have become far more common in recent times, there is no global estimate for the numbers of this species, though the Southeast Asian species is listed Appendix 2 of CITES so clearly there is a need to keep close watch on this situation.

Spectacled porpoise

Spectacled Porpoise

This is a small to mid-sized porpoise found in the Southern ocean. It is a species with some of the least study, thought largely as a result of the incredible isolation.

The majority of what we know, has come from stranded animals, and the few sightings that have occured. The have no beak. It has small pectoral fins with rounded tips positioned far forward on the body, and a triangular dorsal fin. Males have larger and rounder dorsal fins.

It is thought to be found around the southern pole, from Patagonia, South Georgia, New Zealand.

Population size is unknown given how rarely they are spotted.

Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises family tree

Cetaceans -Whales, porpoise and dolphins

Few people can avoid stopping to watch, if they spot cetaceans from a cliff. While the family is wide and varied, they are all pretty interesting. From some of the largest and most intelligent hunters such as killer whales to the largest animal on earth the blue whale.

Whale and dolphin watching tourism is worth a lot of money – this can be essential, as in many places the extra money helps a community survive. 

I hope, overtime, to make this section of the website as large a list of places to view cetaceans and people who will help you in that quest.

As might perhaps be suspected, all of the mammal species which have returned permanently to the sea, and developed breathing holes located on their back (and therefore perfectly placed for taking quick breaths) are  related.

So what is the most closely related living land mammal? Perhaps obviously, it is a species which spends much time in the water – the hippopotamus.

As with all of these pages, as we create pages for each individual species, they will be linked to the photo below.

So the baleen whales are split into three families, these are not large as there are only 16 species of baleen whales in the world. At the current time, there are roughly 1.1 million baleen whales in the worlds oceans

Below is a family tree of the group

 

Baleen Whales

Baleenideae – the rhight whales

 

The first  living split is Baleenidae, this family is not huge. The north atlantic and north pacific are closest related, these species are closely related to the Southern pacific right whales. Their name is unfortunate – it is called right whale for 3 reasons, it swims slowly, floats when dead and carries a large amount of oil. This lead to all these species being hunted close to extinction.

The other family is called Balaenopteroidea. Here species peel off slowly. I will list them in the order that they split.

The first split is the minke whale – of which there are 2 species, the common and southern minke whale, with the grey whale being the next most similar.

The next are the humpback whale and the fin whale followed by the Blue whale.

The last group of whales are from a group called the Brydes whales complex

This completes the list of baleen whales. The other branch of the Cetaceans is known as the toothed whales

Toothed Whale

.I am going to look at them in 3 groups, though the third is not particularly closely related to each other

  • Delphinoidea: This includes
    • Monodontidaes – Belugas and narwhals
    • Phocoenidae – The family of Porpoises (7 species) such as harbour porpoises and Vanquita

 

    • Delphininidae – these are the oceanic dolphins – 37 species split into several subfamilies which we will deal with one by one.
Subfamily Delphininae – 15 species (tamanend bottle nose dolphin only recognized as separate species, will build page for it at some point when photos are readily available.

Subfamily  Globcephalinae 11 species

Subfamily incerta sedis (latin for “of uncertain placement” )6 species

Subfamily Lissodelphininae 6 sppecies

Subfamily Orcininae

  • Inioidea : This includes 3 groups
    • Iniidae (only 1 of 5 genus remains -Inea (4 species: Araguaian river dolphin, Bolivian river dolphin  and Orinoco dolphin)
    • Lipotidae: which contains only one species: the Baiji or Chinese river dolphin
  • Pontoporiidae: which contains one species 

The next family is the beaked whales. There are 24 species, of which only 3-4 have been well studied. This is because they spend much of their time deep in the sea, it appears that each species does not have many members and they are incredibly reclusive in their habits.

One might ask how an air breathing animal can spend so much of its time deep in the ocean? Well the Curved beaked whale has had a dive timed at 138 minutes. More incredible, they only need around 2 minutes to catch their breathe before sinking back into the depths. This means that if required, they can spend just 20 minutes out of 24 hours at the surface – an incredible stunt.

There appear to be a great number of species that are extinct – these we will not list, but will mention each subfamily in passing.

Incertae sedis contains 5 extinct genus, Basal forms include 13 extinct genus

Subfamily Berardiinae contains 3 genus, 2 of which are extinct, but the third contains 3 living species (and one dead) .  

Genus Beradius

 

Next we cover the Bottlenose whales

Northern                                                                                                                     Southern and                                                        Tropical

Subfamily Ziphiinae  contains 5 genus, 3 are extinct, but two have just one species in each

Genus Tasmacetus: Shepherds beaked whale Genus Ziphius: Cuviers beaked whale

Click on the image to see it in full

As you can see from the whale family tree, the sperm whales are separate from the rest. However, they are toothed whales so belong in this section of the page.

Sea-Lions

An encounter with almost any wild animal can be something you remember for years. This sealion that came out of the sea on the beach in New Zealand is no different

Sea-lions

There are 6 living species of sea-lion, and 1 extinct. As the interest in these species grows and the links become unwieldy i will split out the separate species, but for the time being I will just have one page for them all – help it to be necessary to split them as soon as possible. 

Sea-lions are pinnipeds with external ear flaps, long fore-flippers, the ability to walk on all fours, short and thick hair, and a big chest and belly. The sea-lions the 6 living species shown below (the Japanese sea-lion is extinct) in five genera. Their range extends from the subarctic to tropical waters of the global ocean in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the notable exception of the northern Atlantic Ocean. They have an average lifespan of 20–30 years.[2] A male California sea-lion weighs on average about 300 kg (660 lb) and is about 2.4 m (8 ft) long, while the female sea-lion weighs 100 kg (220 lb) and is 1.8 m (6 ft) long. The largest sea-lions are Steller’s sea-lions, which can weigh 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) and grow to a length of 3.0 m (10 ft). Sea-lions consume large quantities of food at a time and are known to eat about 5–8% of their body weight (about 6.8–15.9 kg (15–35 lb)) at a single feeding. Sea-lions can move around 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) in water and at their fastest they can reach a speed of about 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph).[3] Three species, the Australian sea-lion, the Galápagos sea-lion and the New Zealand sea-lion, are listed as endangered.

Steller Sea-lion are found on the land of North America and Asia that circle the north pole (map below, credit NOAA). 

They are predated by killer whales, though sleeper sharks and great whites sometimes take young. They eat a variety of foods, include various fish species, as well as octopus and squid. They are fast swimmers, capable of diving to 1500feet, and staying under for 16 minutes

During breeding season, males fight to control a stretch of beach, and females move freely to the place they favour. 

Status: population has fallen 70-80% since the 1970s and so are listed as endangered, around 46,000 individuals, though in recent years, the Eastern population has grown at around 3% a year (in 2013 this lead to its removal from the US endangered species list)

 

Australian Sea-lion is the only endemic pinniped found in Australia.

They can make a variety of calls, with mothers and young able to pick up each others call in the chaos of a breeding beach. There are currently 66 recognized breeding beaches, though 42% of pups are bred on just 4 of these beaches.

While rare, a bite can require hospitalisation. In both the 1930s and 1960s they were recorded as feeding on little penguins, and this still happens today. Other food includes a variety of fish and even small sharks, in turn, they are hunted by great white sharks and killer whale (orca).

Population was 14370 in 2010 though by 2014 it had fallen to just 6500 mature individuals, though current estimates are 11,200 suggesting a rebound. Still it is clear that they need particular efforts for their conservation. Despite their (relatively) close ranges, the Australian and New Zealand sea-lions do not appear to be closely related. They are considered vulnerable.

California Sea-lion Are found on the west coast of north America. On this map, the navy blue marks the breeding rance, while the light blue shows the total range that they can be found in. It should be noted, that previously the Japanese and Galapagos sealion were both considered subspecies of the Californian species, but no longer. They can stay healthy, for a time, in fresh water, and have been seen living for a while in Bonneville dam – 150 miles inland.

They see (mostly in blue/green) and hear well, as well as being able to sense nearby, with their whiskers. They generally eat fish, squid and occasionally clams. They have been seen cooperating with other sealions, or indeed dolphins porpoises and sea-birds in their hunting techniques, though exploitation is also common.

There are 5 relatively distinct populations. Several sealions have reached Japanese waters in recent years, and this is the most likely origin, as such  it could return to Japan on its own. 

It is considered least concern with 238,000-241,000 individuals and increasing over time.

Galapagos Sea-lions Found on all of the Galapagos Islands, as well as (in smaller numbers) on Isla de la Plata, which is just 40km from Puerto López a village in Ecuador. There have also been recorded sightings on the Isla del Coco which is 500km southwest of Costa Rica (and 750km from the Galapagos). These are not regular, and so have been considered vagrant. It is of course possible that historically they roamed here, but we cannot say.

They are the smallest species of sea-lion, and can often be seen gliding through the water, or sunbathing on the beach. They measure 1.5m-2.5m and weigh between 50 and 400kg.

Much of their diet is made up of sardines. Interaction with humans is usually negative, and feral dogs often form packs, and can then attack the sealions.

The population tends to bounce between 20,000 and 50,000 and they are currently classed as endangered

 

New Zealand Sea-lion (formerly known as the Hooker sealion) is native to south island, though before 1500 it is thought that it was also found on north island. They tend to breed on Subarctic islands of Auckland and Campbell (99% of the pups are born in these islands). In 1993, sealions started breeding on South Island again for the first time in 150 years.

Genetic evidence suggests that until 1300-1500 there was a mainland subspecies, which was wiped out by the Mauri’s and has been replaced by members from the sub-Antarctic population.

As well as eating fish and crustations, they will take new Zealand fur seals as well. They are hunted by great white sharks, and in a survey 27% of adults had scars from near misses. While south American sealions are hunted by orca (with them famously beaching to catch them) they do not appear to do this around New Zealand. After the birth of their pup, females move inland as much as 2km to avoid males, storms and even parasites.

They are thought to number 12,000 making them the rarest sealion. They are also the most distinct being part of the Genus Phocarctos, and are listed as endangered.

 

South-American Sea-lion

Also known as the Southern sealion or the Patagonian sealion. They have been recorded going as far north as Ecuador, though not yet breeding there. They eat fish, as well as squid and octopus, and have even been observed predating penguins, pelicans and South American fur seals.

Males set up territories, but after the arrival of females switch to protecting them. Having said this, one population in Peru have a different set-up where males perform, and females choose a mate, and are free to move freely. This may be in result to the warmer climate, which means the females make regular trips into the sea.

The total population is estimated at 265,000. They are declining in Patagonia (Argentina) and the Falklands but increasing in Chile and Uruguay. In the 2013 El nino many Peruvian sealions died. They are still regularly killed by fishermen, both for damaging equipment and stealing fish.

They are listed as least concern

 

As we gain contacts each picture above will become a link to a page for the specific species – for now, all species will be looked after by this page. If you are a wildlife guide or live nearby and want to be able to host (as a hotel or B&B or campsite) and would like to be listed do get in touch. Our aim, is to give people all the information and links on one page, so that they can book everything in one go – making it easy, and therefore more people undertaking these sort of trips.

Sea-lions can be specifically searched out, but it is also possible to have a surprise encounter with one.

One of my most memorable encounters with any wildlife, is an encounter with a New Zealand sealion.  We had simply gone for a walk on the beach, and at some point, we saw the sea-lion coming out of the sea. This huge male slowly made its way towards us, and when about 10m away it lay down in the sand, threw sand all over itself and went to sleep.

To return to the Pinniped page click here

Albania

Albania

Albania is  relatively small country in Southern Europe – bordering Greece. Despite lying behind the iron curtain, like other countries in this area although predators survived, they are greatly depleted. There are 250 wolves within the borders, 1800-200 bears. Unfortunately, the Lynx in Albania is a subspecies called the Balkan Lynx, and there are only30-45 spread between Albania and North Macedonia.

Unfortunately, when you look at the size of the country, and the fact that 70% of it is covered by the Albanian Alps, you realize that here to the wildlife numbers are greatly depleted. The Dinirac Alps continue on from the Julian Alps which continue from the main alps range. Only the most northern part of Albania contains these mountains.

Albania does pay compensation for livestock killed, which should make this a country which is more open to ecotourism. Should an ecotourism industry grow bigger in this country, it would hopefully reduce both legal and illegal killing of these animals, and therefore allow the populations to rebound.

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What is clear, is that interest in the wolves and bears amongst tourists is likely to encourage ecotourism to become an industry in Albania. This country has suffered greatly over the last half a century or more, however, as a result many animals have survived alongside them – tourism will show them what this is worth.

Bison have not yet got any presence in the country.

Links to areas to visit will appear on this page

African Savannah

African Savannah animals

The aim here is not to give you the number of every species that exists in each reserve. Rather, the aim is to give you a rough idea of the health and size of each reserve. In places where there are private reserves on the edge of a larger reserve, complete ecosystem numbers will be given. Please note that they will not be precise, as even straight after a thorough count numbers are only estimates – furthermore, some reserves do not publicize their numbers.

The grid of animals that I have included above are as follows (below):

African wild dog Black rhino White rhino(Really wide rhino) Elephant Buffalo Giraffe Zebra Cheetah Hippopotamus Lion Hyena Leopard

This is going to be the standard animals for Savannah ecosystems within Africa, however each different Biome will have different species so there will be a variety of these pages. I will give you brief information on each. In the long-run we hope to have animal pages for each and these will be linked from the Bold animal names. Those not bold not not yet have a link page. At the bottom of each animals page is a list of places which you can book to see the animal in question; each currently have at least a few choices, but I hope to be able to direct to many more as time moves forwards.

African wild dog (or sometimes known as Cape hunting dog or painted dog). This animal is an incredible sighting if you get lucky. Now, they live at low densities, so are generally found in the largest reserves. If a reserve still has African wild dog, it is clear that the reserve is in pretty good health (usually). Furthermore, as they are very susceptible to various diseases that domestic dogs can carry (such as canine distemper) – this wiped out the population in the Serengeti in 1995. Thankfully, wild dogs have returned to the Serengeti, though currently only 100 or so are in the ecosystem – meaning it is unlikely that you will see them here. Any sighting is a wonderful thing. Member of ecotourism big 7

Black and White Rhino Two different species, Black rhino had a far larger range, unfortunately they are highly endangered across most of their range. White rhino, once found in central Africa (there are now only 2 of these animals left, held at Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya) are now only found in Southern Africa – South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The Kruger, once hosted as much as 10,000 or more white rhino, but now only have about 3000. Note: white rhino appears to be a mistranslation from the Africaans Weit, meaning wide, these rhino are not white. Pictures are Black then white rhino. Member of big 5 and ecotourism big 7

Elephant One of the species that so many people visit Africa for, the Savannah African elephant is doing okay, though the populations is far below historical levels. Places like the Selous (now much of this reserve is Nyerere National park) lost perhaps 80% of there historical elephant population. Encouragingly, if the poaching stops the population often rapidly recovers. The African forest elephant has seen horrific poaching over the last few decades, and without a rapid change this species might be heading for extinction (the African forest elephant is closer related to the Mammoth than the African Savannah elephant. Member of the big 5 and ecotourism big7.

Buffalo: A member of the big 5, the buffalo is essentially a wild cattle species. They are a member of the big 5 and ecotourism big 7. The big 5 is so named because these were the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Buffalo are often the species which you are likely to have encounters with if you go walking on foot.

Lion Often referred to as the King of the Jungle (despite not being found in jungles), is generally considered the apex predator. Certainly a wonderful thing to see, never-the-less they do not get their own way all the time. The population of Lions in Africa has seen precipice falls in the last century, and this has not stopped. Tourism is one tool we have to give them financial value to those who share their space with them. Member of the big 5 and ecotourism big 7

Giraffe: While this is a species that is found in the majority of Southern and Eastern African reserves, they are officially classed as endangered, as their population is currently falling so fast. The selous in Tanzania is nicknamed the Griraffe park as there are so many of them.

Zebra are also found in most reserves in Africa, though the number of them is still of interest.

Cheetah Like African Wild dog are a key indicator of the health of the ecosystem. Living at low densities in most reserves (except in places like the Serengeti plains). These are rare sightings, and most reserves do not have many cheetah. Indeed of all the big species, the cheetah is one of the few predators who do better outside reserves.

Hippopotamus: This is another species that does reasonably well outside protected reserves, but their population has fallen fast over the last few years.

Lion Lions are a very clear indication of the health of each ecosystem. If there is a significant population of Lion, then it is a large reserve and therefore there is plenty of space for other species. Check our links at the bottom of the lion page for some of the best place to see them.

Hyena There are thought to be more than 100,000 spotted hyena in Africa, making them the most numerous predator on the continent. They are exciting animals to see, and their call is often one of the species that you hear from your campsite – the weird rising whoop which is the contact call they use between them. Watch the video below to see what I mean. The advantage of the population size is that you are likely to find them in most wilderness areas. Brown hyenas are also widely found, never the less, as they do not do well in close proximity to spotted hyenas which means they are more often found on the edge of reserves and outside them.

Leopard The last member of the big 5 and Ecotourism big 7, the Leopard is a fascinating species. A solitary animal (except mothers with their young) they are the only big cat, or indeed member of the big 5 that is reguarly found outside protected reserves, though this is decreasing over time. A fantastic sighting, they can be very hard to find, and sightings in big reserves are usually very crowded. Generally found near river courses, as these are the places where large trees are found, allowing the Leopard to rest out of danger.

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

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