Leopards Could Disappear From South Africa by 2020


Endangered Leopards. Photo Credit: Pixabay

The leopard is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and five subspecies are considered endangered (or critically endangered) such as the Ceylon leopard, the Persian leopard, the Amur leopard, the Javan leopard as well as the Arabian leopard.

In South Africa, where leopards are most numerous (Panthera pardus pardus – African leopard), the situation is worrying: they are no more than 4500 and the population would have dropped by 44% between 2012 and 2016, according to National Geographic citing a study by researchers from the University of Durham (UK) published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on April 19, 2017. The Researchers focused on the Soutpansberg region (north-east of the country), making part of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve.

Another alarming figure has fallen: since 2008, the numbers have fallen in the area, gradually decreasing from 10.73 leopards per 100 kmĀ² to only 3.63. The researchers placed cameras in the reserve to identify and tag the leopards, and also equipped eight of them with GPS for tracking purposes. Unfortunately only two survived.

“If the current downward trend is not curbed, there will be no more leopards in western Soutpansberg by 2020. This is particularly worrisome, since in this region the density of leopards was one of the highest in Africa,” said Sam Williams, leader of the study.

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The African leopard is disappearing massively because of illegal hunting — poaching in short. Nevertheless, there is also danger in the case of livestock farmers who set traps or directly kill felines in order to protect their herds. In view of the fall in the population of these animals, the government and scientists believe that it is urgent to find non-lethal solutions with the aim of establishing a sustainable cohabitation.

The African leopard is therefore one of the nine subspecies of leopard and is not one of the most endangered. On the other hand, this could change with the current trend even though there is still reasons to remain optimistic. The African Leopard is present in other countries such as Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Gabon as well as in North Africa, among others. If there are only 4,500 Leopards left in South Africa, the total population of this subspecies is still estimated at 700,000 individuals.

Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.