The Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) is a subspecies of the leopard that may be extinct. It is native to Tanzania, with a range that includes Unguja Island in the Zanzibar archipelago. This subspecies is thought to have occurred when African leopards were isolated on the island after the last Ice Age, creating a smaller form with varying fur patterns.
Because the Zanzibar leopard is so rare, or possibly extinct, there is not much information regarding its habits and lifestyle. Its fur coloring and size have been estimated from six skins that are located in museums. These include the type specimen, which can be found in the Natural History Museum in London and a full specimen, which is located in the Zanzibar Museum. This leopard has never been studied within the wild, and the last recorded sighting occurred in the 1980’s. Although most experts assert that it is extinct or near extinct, the Zanzibar government produced evidence that it was still being hunted in the 1990’s, and that locals have reported sightings of the leopard hunting livestock.
The Zanzibar leopard was thought to have been a creature kept by witches, and was also thought to have been captured and trained specifically for an owners bad intent. These local thoughts are easily accepted, especially because the leopard is so rare. During the 20th century, humans encroached upon the Zanzibar leopard’s natural habitat. Because of this, encounters with the leopards caused locals to overhunt them for the purpose of eradication. This hunting was local in the beginning, but in 1964, an island wide anti-witch and leopard hunt arose. This was led by a known witch-finder called Kitanzi, and resulted in the near eradication of the subspecies.
By the time the Zanzibar leopard was brought to the attention of conservationists, experts were already ruling it to be extinct. The Jozani-Chwaka Bay Conservation Project, funded by CARE, drafted a leopard conservation, but this was dropped in 1997 when nothing was found supporting the claim that the leopard was still alive. However, there is local hope that the species can be preserved, and some people are asserting that leopard keepers should show their leopards for money, in order to prove that the subspecies still exists. Despite these hopes, the efforts of locals to show captive Zanzibar leopards have not been successful. The Zanzibar leopard currently appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Critically Endangered.”
Image Caption: Panthera pardus adersi. Zanzibar Museum. Credit: Helle V. Goldman e Jon Winther-Hansen/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)