Persian Leopard, Panthera pardus ciscaucasica
The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica), also known as the Caucasian leopard, is a subspecies of the leopard that can be found in the Caucasus mountains, eastern Turkey southern Turkmenistan, northern Iran, and some western areas of Afghanistan. Its range in the Caucuses is now fragmented, but once encompassed all areas except those within steppe habitats. It prefers to live in many habitats, but in the Greater Caucuses, it prefers subalpine meadows, rocky ravines, and broadleaved forests at elevations between 2,000 and 12,500 feet. In the Lesser Caucuses and Iran, it prefers to reside in habitats with rocky slopes, thin juniper forests, and mountain steppes. These areas hold the largest populations of the Persian leopard. In other areas of its range, it does not occur in large populations, and can be found in border areas.
The Persian leopard can reach an average weight of two hundred pounds and an average body length of eight and a half feet. It is lighter in color than other leopards, but still has dark spots along its entire body. This leopard consumes a wide variety of species including ungulates like roe deer, goitered gazelle, mouflons, wild boar, wild goats, and wild sheep. It is thought to consume smaller species if larger prey is not available. It is known as a flagship species, because it shows the health of an ecosystem by its population numbers.
The Persian leopard numbers between 871 and 1,290 mature individuals throughout its range. Its largest population occurs in Iran, holding between 550 and 850 individuals, while its smallest population occurs in Nagorno-Karabakh holding only three or four individuals. Its population in Afghanistan is the second largest, holding between two and three hundred, but it is poorly understood in this area of its range.
The main threats to the Persian leopard include poaching, habitat loss, loss of prey, and human disturbances. Habitat loss can be caused by fires, agricultural practices, deforestation, and overgrazing by livestock. In Iran, it is mainly threatened by poaching and loss of habitat and in areas where it is not protected, there is very little chance of survival. In some areas, its habitats are becoming increasingly arid and affecting prey like wild sheep and goats, causing a decline in the leopard’s main diet. Under the Iranian wildlife conservation law, the Persian leopard is protected, but it is dwindling in that area of its range. There are 112 individuals occurring in zoos across the world, with forty-eight males and fifty females residing in the European Endangered Species Programme. The Persian leopard appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”
Image Caption: Persian Leopard sitting. Credit: Tamar Assaf/Wikipedia