|Male Indian leopard at Nagarhole National Park, India|
|Subspecies:||P. p. fusca|
|Panthera pardus fusca
The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent and classified as Near Threatened by IUCN since 2008. The species Panthera pardus may soon qualify for the Vulnerable status due to habitat loss and fragmentation, heavy poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts in Asia, and persecution due to conflict situations. They are becoming increasingly rare outside protected areas. The trend of the population is decreasing.
In 1794, Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer wrote the first description of Felis fusca, in which he gave account of a panther-like cat from Bengal of about 85.5 cm (33.7 in), with strong legs and a long well-formed tail, head as big as a panther’s, broad muzzle, short ears and small, yellowish grey eyes, light grey ocular bulbs; black at first sight, but on closer examination dark brown with circular darker coloured spots, tinged pale red underneath.
Male Indian leopards grow to between 4 ft 2 in (127 cm) and 4 ft 8 in (142 cm) in body size with a 2 ft 6 in (76 cm) to 3 ft (91 cm) long tail and weigh between 110 and 170 lb (50 and 77 kg). Females are smaller growing to between 3 ft 5 in (104 cm) and 3 ft 10 in (117 cm) in body size with a 2 ft 6 in (76 cm) to 2 ft 10.5 in (87.6 cm) in long tail and weight between 64 and 75 lb (29 and 34 kg).
Distribution and habitat
On the Indian subcontinent, topographical barriers to the dispersal of this subspecies are the Indus River in the west, and the Himalayas in the north. In the east, the lower course of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Delta form natural barriers to the distribution of the Indochinese leopard. Indian leopards are distributed all over India, in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and parts of Pakistan. In the Himalayas they are sympatric with snow leopards up to 5,200 metres (17,100 ft) above sea level. They inhabit tropical rain forests, dry deciduous forests, temperate forests and northern coniferous forests but do not occur in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans.
Ecology and behaviour
In Nepal's Bardia National Park, home ranges of male leopards comprised about 48 km2 (19 sq mi), and of females about 17 km2 (6.6 sq mi); female home ranges decreased to 5 to 7 km2 (1.9 to 2.7 sq mi) when they had young cubs.
Hunting for the illegal wildlife trade has the greatest potential to do maximum harm in minimal time. Apart from poaching, Indian leopards are threatened by loss of habitat and fragmentation of formerly connected populations, various levels of human–leopard conflict in human–dominated landscapes, and competition with other predators.
A significant immediate threat to wild leopard populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal and China. The governments of these countries have failed to implement adequate enforcement response, and wildlife crime remained a low priority in terms of political commitment and investment for years. There are well-organised gangs of professional poachers, who move from place to place and set up camp in vulnerable areas. Skins are rough-cured in the field and handed over to dealers, who send them for further treatment to Indian tanning centres. Buyers choose the skins from dealers or tanneries and smuggle them through a complex interlinking network to markets outside India, mainly in China. Seized skins in Kathmandu confirm the city's role as a key staging point for illegal skins smuggled from India bound for Tibet and China.
It is likely that seizures represent a tiny fraction of the total illegal trade, with the majority of smuggled skins reaching their intended end market. Seizures revealed:
- in India: more than 2845 poached leopards between 1994 and October 2010;
- in Nepal: 243 poached leopards between May 2002 and May 2008;
- in China and Tibet: more than 774 poached leopards between July 1999 and September 2005.
In May 2010, the Wildlife Protection Society of India estimated that in India at least 3,189 leopards were killed since 1994. For every tiger skin, there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul.
Expansion of agriculturally used land, encroachment of humans and their livestock into protected areas are main factors contributing to habitat loss and decrease of wild prey. As a result, leopards approach human settlements, where they are tempted to prey on dogs, pigs and goats — domestic livestock, which constitutes an important part of their diet, if they live on the periphery of human habitations. Human–leopard conflict situations ensue, and have increased in recent years. In retaliation for attacks on livestock, leopards are shot, poisoned and trapped in snares. The leopards are considered to be unwanted trespassers by villagers. Conservationists criticize these actions, claiming that people are encroaching on the leopard's native habitat. 
India's Forest Department is entitled to set up traps only in cases of a leopard having attacked humans. If only the presence of a crowd of people prevents the leopard from escaping, then the crowd has to be dispersed and the animal allowed to escape.
Competition with other predators
Leopards share their habitats with Asiatic lions, Bengal tigers, Asiatic Black Bears and sloth bears, wolves, Striped hyenas and wild dogs. These animals may kill leopard cubs given a chance. Lions and tigers may even attack a full-grown leopard.
Leopards succeed in co-existing with tigers, but are not common in habitat where tiger density is high. They are sandwiched between prime tiger habitat, on the one side, and cultivated village land on the other.
Despite India and Nepal being contracting parties to CITES, national legislation of both countries does not incorporate and address the spirit and concerns of CITES. Trained human resources, basic facilities and effective networks for control of poaching and trade in wildlife are lacking.
Frederick Walter Champion was one of the first in India who after World War I advocated for the conservation of leopards, condemned sport hunting and recognised their key role in the ecosystem. Billy Arjan Singh championed their cause since the early 1970s.
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- Leopards .:. wild-cat.org — Information about research and conservation of leopards in Asia
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