The Persian leopard, one of the most iconic big cats in west and central Asia, has lost as much as 84% of its historic range, with an extant population of around 1,000 individuals. Today, most of this population is restricted to Iran.
While there is a wide range of conservation efforts for the Persian leopard, there is also a pressing need to increase the amount of research on this less studied species. Recent surveys have highlighted the urgent need to understand what can be done to arrest the worrying declines in its population and range.
Leopards are capable of surviving in human-dominated landscapes provided they have sufficient cover, access to wild prey, and tolerance from local people. In many areas, however, leopards are killed when they wander outside reserves, mainly due to conflict with rural communities over livestock. Such conflicts, together with habitat loss, the decline of prey and illegal hunting for leopard skin, are all factors contributing to the animal’s decline. Despite all the efforts that have been made over more than half a century to protect the Persian leopard, it still suffers from numerous threats, including a poaching rate of one leopard per week in Iran.
The declining trend in leopard numbers has triggered various research and outreach programs to try to reverse this trend. Nevertheless, comprehensive scientific study teamed up with evidence-based conservation is still lacking in the case of Persian leopards and their ecosystems. Project Future4Leopards has aimed to address this problem since 2013.
The Project has delineated some of the least-known aspects of leopard ecology across remote montane areas, from ranging patterns to population structures. However, these ecological findings are merely a basis, if an essential basis, for our attempts to control the main challenge for leopards within each reserve – the poaching of their prey. We work closely with local authorities and anti-poaching units to find solutions for this problem and, more importantly, to secure resources for their implementation. Rangers and hunters are two key groups engaged in this part of our work.
Equally essential, the Project also works closely with rural communities to raise awareness. We support local people by securing veterinary services for their livestock so that they receive a tangible benefit for tolerating and co-existing with the leopards. And last – but far from least – we help to raise the profile of this magnificent cat!