Friday, 6 May 2016

Leopards have lost 75% of their historical habitat

New research shows the big cats’ global range has shrunk by a shocking amount over the last 250 years

Wednesday 4 May 201614.20 BSTLast modified on Wednesday 4 May 201615.30 BST 

The area of the world roamed by leopards has declined by three quarters over the last two and a half centuries, according to the most comprehensive effort yet to map the big cat.

Researchers said they were shocked by the shrinking of the spotted hunter’s range, and that the decline had been far worse for several of the nine subspecies of leopards and in some parts of the world.

“We found the leopard had lost 75% of its historical habitat, we were blown away by that, it was much more than we feared,” said Andrew Jacobson, a conservationist at the Zoological Society of London and lead author of a new study on their range published in the journal PeerJ.

“Our goal has to be to raise consciousness about the plight of the leopard, it’s been flying under the conservation radar for a while. We hoped to raise its profile and say ‘this cat needs your attention’.”

The new work is the first known attempt to draw up a global, historical map of the leopard. Jacobson and researchers found that in 1750 it occupied a vast 35m sq km (13.5m sq mile) area throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But after centuries of habitat loss and hunting caused by humans, that area shrank to just 8.5m sq km.

Leopards in Asia have been particularly badly hit, with six regions losing over 95% of habitat where the species has been, in Jacobson’s view, “almost completely wiped out”.

There appeared to be a clear link between Asia’s economic development and the leopard’s decline there, he said. “South-east Asia and China have been developed for a long period of time and that’s seriously constricted habitat in that area for decades. We worry this will be the trend we will see in Africa in coming decades, as economies grow.”

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