Thursday, 8 September 2016

Another big predator in Southeast Asia faces extinction

At best, just 2,500 Indochinese leopards survive today across Southeast Asia. They have been eradicated from 93% of their historic habitat by snares, poachers, deforestation and declines in prey. Can conservationists stop the bleeding before its too late? 

Wednesday 31 August 2016 07.15 BSTLast modified on Wednesday 31 August 201615.44 BST

Conservationists have long known that it’s hard – and in some cases – nearly impossible to survive as a tiger in Southeast Asia. Burning forests, high human populations and unflagging demand for tiger blood, tiger skin and crushed tiger bone means the big cats have to tread a daily gauntlet of snares, guns and desperate poachers. Now, conservationists are discovering, belatedly, that the same is largely true for leopards. 

A sobering new study in Biological Conservation has found that the Indochinese leopard – a distinct subspecies – may be down to less than 1,000 individuals. And in the best-case scenario only 2,500 animals survive – less than the human population of Farmsfield village in Nottinghamshire.

“Most people assume that leopards are still common everywhere, whereas everybody probably knows by now that tigers and lions have become very rare in the wild,” said co-author of the study, Jan Kamler with Panthera.

This has been in part due to the fact that leopards have been less rigorously studied than tigers and lions, but also the longtime assumption that leopards are more adaptable than many other big cats and therefore able to survive in more degraded habitats, on a wider variety of prey and closer to human dwellings. But even the leopard’s supposed plasticity has not been enough to save them across most of Southeast Asia.

Indochinese leopards (Panthera pardus delacouri) have lost 93% of their historic territory, according to the new survey. They are extinct in Singapore and are potentially extinct in Laos and Vietnam. Meanwhile, the few individuals hanging on in China are not expected to survive.

Kamler said the illegal wildlife trade is the biggest factor behind this massive decline.

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