Only about a thousand remain worldwide and half of these are thought to be in Iran where they provide a vital link to the other even more thinly spread populations in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia and Georgia. If the Iranian leopards were to disappear then those in all these other countries would be doomed too.
Watch the latest video below to see how a farmer saved a persian leopard in one of our study sites
Mohammad Farhadinia of the Iranian Cheetah Society is reconnecting a leopard corridor across north western Iran and cooperating with Arezoo Sanei of the Asian Leopard Specialist Society in the north east. PTES is supporting both projects. They are working closely with the locals, collecting information about sightings and devising an action plan to negotiate with local authorities.
Most Persian leopards are in Iran and infrequent crossings of animals from there into the other areas of the range provide a vital lifeline for these isolated populations. This is very alarming given that the Iranian ‘stronghold’ population is itself at a perilously low density for the species.
Leopards need continuous, vast tracts of land with plenty of cover and prey species to thrive. But ever-increasing fragmentation of land and encroachment by humans is turning their range into a patchwork landscape. Poaching by human settlements depletes the available prey foods. Developing human infrastructure disturbs and destroys historical habitat as land is surrendered to mining, road construction, deforestation, wild fire and livestock grazing. The remaining mountainous habitats are unsuitable for the resident leopard populations.
The scale of poaching is not particularly large, but it has a substantial impact on Persian leopards when there are so very few of them; they simply can’t withstand the pressure.
Political conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan contributes too allowing poaching to flourish unchecked and leopards are hardly likely to remain in the vicinity. All of these patchy but hostile environments can be crossed by leopards as they disperse over their range, but their journey is fraught with danger.
Across the Caucasus mountains, safe corridors of suitable leopard country are urgently needed to link fragmented populations so that leopards can move around and inter-mix. This is exactly where PTES, through our support for Mohammad Farhadinia of the Iranian Cheetah Society, is concentrating effort. And alongside this we are tackling the human-leopard conflict that arises when livestock are killed in the stronghold area of Iran to make sure the vital leopard reservoir is maintained.
Saving Persian leopards from eventual extinction is a real challenge. It will take time so we are planning our work over several years. There are three main elements involved. Firstly, the team is assessing the best way to join the fragmented habitat and create the necessary landscape corridor with appropriate local and national support. Across the intended region, imaginative education programmes are helping local communities to recognise the threat to the species and take measures to protect their livestock from attack to minimise conflict. And local conservation agencies are being empowered to protect and guard the leopard and its habitats more efficiently and effectively.
The demise of the leopard is a warning of a failing environment; one that we still have the chance to save. Please help us do this before it’s too late for Persian leopards.
UPDATE: Asian Leopard Specialist Society have recently established the first site to bring the people who care about Persian leopards in Iran together to share the knowledge and learn from new findings. (Open link in Google browser and click Translate)