|Endangered (IUCN 3.1)|
|Subspecies:||P. p. ciscaucasica|
|Panthera pardus ciscaucasica Satunin, 1914|
The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica syn. Panthera pardus saxicolor), also called the Caucasian leopard, is the largest leopard subspecies, and is native to northern Iran, eastern Turkey, the Caucasus mountains, southern Turkmenistan, and parts of western Afghanistan. It is endangered throughout its range with fewer than 871–1,290 mature individuals and a declining population trend.Contents
The Persian leopard is large, weighing up to 90 kg (200 lb), and light in color. They vary in colouration; both pale and dark individuals are found in Iran.
Biometric data collected from 25 female and male individuals in various provinces of Iran indicates average body length of 259 cm (102 in). A young male from northern Iran weighed 64 kg (141 lb).Distribution and habitatPortrait by A. N. Komarov.
Leopards were most likely distributed once over the whole Caucasus, except for steppe areas. Surveys conducted between 2001 and 2005 confirmed that there are no more leopards in the western part of the Greater Caucasus, and that they survived only at a few sites in the eastern part. The largest populations survive in Iran. The political and social changes in the former Soviet Union in 1992 caused a severe economic crisis and a weakening of formerly effective protection systems. Ranges of all wildlife were severely fragmented. The former leopard range declined enormously as leopards were persecuted and wild ungulates hunted. Inadequate baseline data and lack of monitoring programmes make it difficult to evaluate declines of mammalian prey species.
As of 2008, of the estimated 871–1,290 mature leopards
Persian leopards avoid deserts, areas with long-duration snow cover and areas that are near urban development. Their habitat consists of subalpine meadows, broadleaf forests and rugged ravines from 600–3,800 m (2,000–12,500 ft) in the Greater Caucasus, and rocky slopes, mountain steppes, and sparse juniper forests in the Lesser Caucasus and Iran. Only some small and isolated populations remain in the whole ecoregion. Suitable habitat in each range country is limited and most often situated in remote border areas. Local populations depend on immigration from source populations in the south, mainly in Iran.In Iran
Leopards are widely distributed in Iran, but more abundant in the northern part than in the southern part of the country. They are present in 74 protected and non-protected areas, of which 69% are located in northern Iran. They are mainly found in the Alborz and the Zagros mountain ranges and throughout the northwestern region, which crosses these mountain chains. The Hyrcanian forests located in the north and along the Alborz mountain chain are considered as one of the most important habitats for leopards in the country. Their habitat comprises climates with temperatures ranging from −23 °C (−9 °F) to 49 °C (120 °F), but they are most often found in habitats with temperatures of 13 to 18 °C (55 to 64 °F), 0 to 20 days of ice cover per year and rainfall of more than 200 mm per year.
With more than 3,500 km2 (1,400 sq mi), the Central Alborz Protected Area is one of the largest reserves in the country where leopards roam. In the Sarigol National Park in northeastern Iran, four leopard families with two cubs each were identified during a survey carried out from 2005 to 2008. A male leopard was photographed in January 2008 spraying urine on a Berberis tree; he was photographed several times until mid-February in the same area.
In Bamu National Park located northeast of Shiraz in Fars Province, camera trapping carried out from autumn 2007 to spring 2008 revealed seven individuals in a sampling area of 321.12 km2 (123.99 sq mi).In Armenia
In Armenia, people and leopards co-existed since the early prehistoric times. By the mid-20th century leopards were relatively common in the country''s mountains. Today, the leopard stronghold is the rugged and cliffy terrain of Khosrov State Reserve, located south-east of Yerevan on the south-western slopes of the Geghama mountains, where between October 2000 to July 2002 tracks of no more than 10 individuals were found in an area of 780 km2 (300 sq mi). Leopards were known to live on the Meghri Ridge in the extreme south of Armenia, where only one individual was camera-trapped between August 2006 to April 2007, and no signs of other leopards were found during track surveys conducted over an area of 296.9 km2 (114.6 sq mi). The local prey base could support 4–10 individuals, but poaching and disturbance caused by livestock breeding, gathering of edible plants and mushrooms, deforestation and human-induced wild fires are so high that they exceed the tolerance limits of leopards.In Azerbaijan
Leopards are present in the Talysh Mountains in the far southeast, where their habitat is continuous with that on the Iranian side of the Talysh Mountains. They also survived in northwest Azerbaijan in the Akhar-Bakhar section of Ilisu State Reserve in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus until recently, but current numbers are extremely low.
Despite occasional sightings, it was not clear whether leopards had been extinct in Azerbaijan by the late 1990s, until a specimen was camera-trapped in March 2007 in the Hirkan National Park.
In September 2012, the first picture of a leopard was taken in the Zangezur National Park, and in October, camera traps recorded one in the Hirkan National Park as well.
In May 2013, a female leopard was recorded on a camera-trap in the Zangezur National Park displaying signs of territorial behaviour. This prompted the Azerbaijan Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to suggest an increase in the number of leopards in Azerbaijan in recent years.In GeorgiaA Caucasian leopard taxidermy in the Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi.
Since 1954, leopards were thought to be extinct in Georgia — killed by hunters. In April 2001, an adult female was shot on the border to Kabardino-Balkaria, her two cubs captured and taken to the Novosibirsk Zoo in Russia. In the winter of 2003, zoologists found footprints of a leopard in Vashlovani Reserve in southeastern Georgia and later camera-trapped one young male individual several times. Leopard signs have also been found at two localities in Tusheti, the headwaters of the Andi Koisu and Assa rivers, bordering Dagestan.
Over the last 60 years, there have been several sightings of leopards around the Tbilisi area and in the Shida Kartli province to the northwest of the capital. Leopards live primarily in dense forests, although several have been spotted in the lowland plains in the southeastern region of Kakheti in 2004.In the North Caucasus regions of Russia
Signs of leopard presence have been found in the upper Andiyskoe and Avarskoye Koisu rivers in Dagestan. According to local reports leopards may also occur in Ingushetia, Ossetia and Chechnya. Leopards no longer occur in the Western Caucasus.Ecology and behaviour
Leopards'' diet varies depending on the habitat of their territory. Their principal prey is the most abundant ungulate such as Bezoar goat, roe deer, Goitered gazelle, West Caucasian tur, mouflons, urial, and wild boar. They also prey on smaller wildlife such as Crested porcupine and Cape hare, and occasionally attack livestock and herd dogs.
Studies revealed that presence of leopards in Iran is highly correlated with presence of wild goat and wild sheep. Opportunistic predation on smaller prey species is also probable. Attack of a leopard individual on onager was also recorded.Threats
Persian leopards are threatened by poaching, depletion of their prey base due to poaching, human disturbance such as presence of military and training of troops in border areas, habitat loss due to deforestation, fire, agricultural expansion, overgrazing, and infrastructure development.
In Iran, primary threats are habitat disturbances followed by illegal hunting and excess of livestock in the leopard habitats. The leopards'' chances for survival outside protected areas appear very slim. Intensive dry condition in wide areas of leopard habitats in recent years is affecting leopard main prey species such as wild goat and wild sheep. Recent assessments on the Persian leopard mortality rate in Iran revealed that 70% of leopard mortalities from 2007-2011 were as a result of illegal hunting or poisoning and 18% were because of road accidents.Conservation
Panthera pardus is listed in CITES Appendix I.In captivity
As of December 2011, there were 112 captive Persian leopards in zoos worldwide comprising 48 male, 50 female and 5 unsexed individuals less than 12 months of age within the European Endangered Species Programme.
Recent studies have shown that these individuals are descendants of nine leopards, captured from countries in the Persian leopard''s range some while ago.Reintroduction projects
In 2009, a Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre was created in the Sochi National Park, where two male leopards from Turkmenistan are being kept since September 2009, and two females from Iran since May 2010. Their descendants are planned to be released into the wild in the Caucasus Biosphere Reserve.
In 2012, a pair of leopards was brought to the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre from Portugal''s Lisbon Zoo. Two cubs were born there in July 2013. It is planned to release them into the wild after they have learned survival skills.Taxonomic history
The Russian explorer Satunin first described the Caucasian leopard P.p. ciscaucasica in 1914 on the basis of a specimen from the Kuban region of North Caucasus. The British zoologist Pocock described specimens from different areas of Persia as P. p. saxicolor in 1927, recognizing the similarity to P.p. ciscaucasica. Today, these names are considered synonyms.