Elusive animals such as big cats are extremely difficult to count in the wild simply because they are not easily seen. So scientists usually use camera traps, which are deployed in the field for weeks to photograph automatically any animal that passes by. By the end of a camera trapping season, which lasts for at least two months, dozens of pictures are compared with each other so that we can estimate the number of leopards in the area based on their natural markings.
Camera traps have been key tools for enhancing our knowledge about animal numbers, and they have been deployed in several areas in the Middle East to assist in leopard counts. However, counting is just the first step, for as biologists we need to know the number of leopards across multiple years so that we can evaluate trends in populations, i.e. if they are decreasing or increasing.
Accordingly, for the first time in Iran, we launched a long-term monitoring program in Tandoureh, which has the largest population of Persian leopards. The second season of our summer camera trapping program has been running since August 2017, with the aim of finding out which individuals we detected in 2016 are still roaming around and how many cubs have made it into their second year. This information is crucial for our understanding of the effectiveness of conservation efforts and the persistence of the leopard population in the park. The project is implemented in partnership with Iran’s Department of the Environment and the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), with financial support from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Panthera. Stay tuned for new results!