Endangered

For centuries big cats have been considered competitors of man. The rural population regards them as a threat to their livestock and therefore has a high interest in eliminating them. They are shot, poisoned, trapped in brutal snares and hunted down by hounds. Up until the 70s big game hunters used to label leopards downright 'lawless killers', 'bounders' or 'secretive, vicious beasts', who deserved to be killed - the sooner the better.

The fur trade is another factor that contributed to a drastic decrease in a once secure population of cats. By the end of the 60s India exported most of her leopard skins to East Africa, mainly to Kenya, where they fetched a much higher price than in India itself. The Kenyan traders could obtain a certificate of origin for these imports, which came in handy for smuggling illegally poached Kenyan leopard skins. During the 70s 60,000 leopard skins were sold worldwide every year. Although in 1973 several countries endorsed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species - CITES - in Washington, China's export quota for leopard skins amounted to 150,000 pieces in 1988.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, powdered tiger bones have been used for at least 1000 years as an ingredient in remedies against rheumatism, arthritis, muscle weakness, back pain and various other ailments; tiger penis soup is said to restore vigour and costs about 350 US$ per bowl. Since 1993 several East Asian countries banned the trade in tiger bones and other body parts, but recently there are indicators of a growing trade in fake tiger bones: body parts of illegally poached leopards and snow leopards are offered as substitutes.

As a result of the extensive persecution by human beings, leopards rank among the most endangered cats. Relevant to the degree of jeopardy of a subspecies is the size of the population surviving and reproducing in the wild - in situ. To prevent inbreeding and raise healthy offspring, a population must comprise at least 50 reproducing animals, of which the number of female animals needs to be larger than the male. A subspecies is termed to be 'threatened with extinction', if and when the in situ population consists of less than 50 adult individuals, such as found in the
  • Amur Leopard - Panthera pardus orientalis
  • Caucasian Leopard - Panthera pardus ciscaucasica
  • North China Leopard - Panthera pardus japonensis
  • Indochina Leopard - Panthera pardus delacouri
  • Sri Lanka Leopard - Panthera pardus kotiya

Black leopards do not constitute a separate subspecies, but both black and spotted cubs may be born in one and the same litter, a case more common within subspecies living in rainforest areas. It has been suggested that the gene for melanism is recessive, with a lower reproductive rate.

There are efforts to re-group the 3 subspecies found in Kashmir, India and Nepal - Panthera pardus millardi, fusca and pernigra - to Panthera pardus fusca. This subspecies has been classified as 'least risk concerned' in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Cat researchers categorize P. p. fusca as common and barely endangered. However, there is no reliable data about the current size of populations, which are in contact with each other. A population able to survive comprises 500 to 1000 individuals. Only a few protected areas are large enough to offer sufficient prey to this many animals.
The following news about Indian leopards were reported recently.