Persian leopard

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Persian leopard
Persian Leopard sitting.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. pardus
Subspecies: P. p. ciscaucasica
Satunin, 1914
Trinomial name
Panthera pardus ciscaucasica
Satunin, 1914
Persian leopard present range.png

The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica syn. Panthera pardus saxicolor), also called the Caucasian leopard or Central Asian leopard, is the largest leopard subspecies native to the Caucasus region, southern Turkmenistan, northern Iran and parts of western Afghanistan. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List; the population is estimated at fewer than 871–1,290 mature individuals and considered declining.[1] Leopards possibly also occur in northern Iraq.[2]

A phylogenetic analysis suggests that the Persian leopard matrilineally belongs to a monophyletic group that diverged from a group of Asian leopards in the second half of the Pleistocene.[3]

Taxonomic history[edit]

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.[4] The British zoologist Pocock described specimens from different areas of Persia as P. p. saxicolor in 1927, recognizing the similarity to P. p. ciscaucasica.[5] Today, these names are considered synonyms.[6]


The Persian leopard is large, weighing up to 60 kg (130 lb), and light in color.[7] They vary in colouration; both pale and dark individuals are found in Iran.[8] The medium length of the body is 158 cm (62 in), of the tail 94 cm (37 in), and of the skull 192 mm (7.6 in).[9]

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).[10]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Portrait 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.[11] 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.[12]

As of 2008, of the estimated 871–1,290 mature leopards[1]

Persian leopards avoid areas with long-duration snow cover and areas that are near urban development.[14] 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.[11] 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.[15]

In Iran[edit]

Leopards are widely distributed in Iran, but more abundant in the northern part of the country.[8] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

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).[19]

In Armenia[edit]

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.[20] 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).[21] 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.[22]

In Azerbaijan[edit]

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.[15]

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.[23]

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.[24][25]

In May 2013, a female leopard was recorded by a camera-trap in the Zangezur National Park displaying signs of territorial behaviour. This prompted the Azerbaijani Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to suggest an increase in the number of leopards in Azerbaijan in recent years.[26]

In Georgia[edit]

The Caucasus Leopard taxidermy in the Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi.

Since 1954, leopards were thought to be extinct in Georgia — killed by hunters.[6] 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.[27] Leopard signs have also been found at two localities in Tusheti, the headwaters of the Andi Koisu and Assa rivers, bordering Dagestan.[15]

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.[citation needed]

In Turkey[edit]

Main article: Anatolian leopard

The Anatolian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana), also called the Asia Minor leopard, was proposed in the 19th century as a distinct leopard subspecies native to southwestern Turkey. Whether leopards survived in this area is not sure. The Anatolian leopard is currently subsumed to the Persian leopard.[1]

The first camera trap photograph of a leopard in Turkey was obtained in September 2013 in the Trabzon Province.[28] In November 2013, a leopard was killed in the Çınar district of Diyarbakır Province.[29] This specimen is considered the western-most observation of a Persian leopard.[30]

In the North Caucasus[edit]

In the North Caucasus, signs of leopard presence have been found in the upper Andiyskoe and Avarskoye Koisu rivers in Dagestan. In Ingushetia, Ossetia, and Chechnya local people reported the presence of leopards. They apparently no longer occur in the Western Caucasus.[15] 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.[6]

In 2016, three leopards were released to the Caucasus Nature Reserve in an attempt to reintroduce the species in their historical habitat.[31] Later that year, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment signed an agreement with Azerbaijan on the creation of a trans-border reserve between the Tlyaratinsky District and the Zagatala State Reserve aimed at the reintroduction of the Persian leopard in the area.[32]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

The diet of the Persian Leopard varies depending on habitat. Their principal prey is ungulates such as Bezoar goat, roe deer, Goitered gazelle, West Caucasian tur, mouflon, urial, Onager, and wild boar. They also prey on smaller wildlife such as Crested porcupine and Cape hare, and occasionally attack livestock and herd dogs.[33][34]

Studies reveal that the presence of leopards in Iran is highly correlated with the presence of wild goat and wild sheep. Opportunistic predation on smaller prey species is also probable. An attack by a leopard on an onager was also recorded.[35]


Ahmad Shah Qajar sitting with a hunted Persian leopard.

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.[15]

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.[36] 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.[37] An assessment of the Persian leopard mortality rate in Iran revealed that 70% of leopard mortalities from 2007 to 2011 were a result of illegal hunting or poisoning, and 18% were due to road accidents.[38]

In the 1980s, anti-personnel mines were deployed along the northern part of the Iran-Iraq border to deter people from entering the area. Persian leopards roaming this area as well are safe from poachers and efforts for industrial development, but at least two individuals are known to have stepped on mines and been killed.[39]


Panthera pardus is listed in CITES Appendix I.[40]

In captivity[edit]

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.[41]

Recent studies have shown that these individuals are descendants of nine leopards, captured from countries in the Persian leopard's range some while ago.

The Armenian Leopard Conservation Society is a youth ecological group's working initiative, and is to specifically study the leopard in Armenia and in the Caucasus region. Present day, it has become common to establish a Leopard Record Monitoring Network in the Caucasus as a significant step in the formation of leopard distribution and ecology in the region.[42]

Reintroduction projects[edit]

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.[43][44]

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.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Khorozyan, I. (2008). "Panthera pardus ssp. saxicolor". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ Al-Sheikhly, O. F. (2012). The hunting of endangered mammals in Iraq. Wildlife Middle East 6: 2–3.
  3. ^ Farhadina, M. S.; Farahmand, H.; Gavashelishvili, A.; Kaboli, M.; Karami, M.; Khalili, B.; Montazamy, Sh. (2015). "Molecular and craniological analysis of leopard, Panthera pardus (Carnivora: Felidae) in Iran: support for a monophyletic clade in western Asia". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 114 (4): 721–736. doi:10.1111/bij.12473. 
  4. ^ Satunin, K. A. (1914). Key of the Mammals of the Russian Empire. Vol. 1: Chiroptera, Insectivora and Carnivora. Tipografīi︠a︡ Kant︠s︡eli︠a︡rīi nami︠e︡stnika E.I.V. na Kavkazi︠e︡, Tiflis. (in Russian)
  5. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1927). Description of two subspecies of leopards. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Series 9 (20): 213–214.
  6. ^ a b c Khorozyan, I. G., Gennady, F., Baryshnikov, G. F. and Abramov, A. V. (2006). Taxonomic status of the leopard, Panthera pardus (Carnivora, Felidae) in the Caucasus and adjacent areas. Russian Journal of Theriology 5(1): 41–52.
  7. ^ Lukarevsky, V., Malkhasyan, A., Askerov, E. (2007). Biology and ecology of the leopard in the Caucasus. Cat News 2: 4–8
  8. ^ a b c Kiabi, B.H., Dareshouri, B.F., Ghaemi, R.A., Jahanshahi, M. (2002). Population status of the Persian leopard “(Panthera pardus saxicolor Pocock, 1927)” in Iran. Zoology in the Middle East 26: 41–47. abstract
  9. ^ Satunin, K. A. (1914). Leopardus pardus ciscaucasicus, Satunin. Conspectus Mammalium Imperii Rossici I. Tiflis: 159–160.
  10. ^ Sanei, A. (2007). Analysis of leopard (Panthera pardus) status in Iran (No.1). Sepehr Publication Center, Tehran. Pp. 298 (In Persian)
  11. ^ a b Lukarevsky, V., Akkiev, M., Askerov, E., Agili, A., Can, E., Gurielidze, Z., Kudaktin, A., Malkhasyan, A. and Y. Yarovenko (2007). Status of the Leopard in the Caucasus. in: Breitenmoser, Ch. and U. (eds.) Status of the leopard in the Caucasus. Cat News Special Issue N° 2
  12. ^ Mallon, D., Weinberg, P. and N. Kopaliani (2007). Status of the Prey Species of the Leopard in the Caucasus. in: Breitenmoser, Ch. and U. (eds.) Status of the leopard in the Caucasus. Cat News Special Issue N° 2
  13. ^ Khorozyan, I., Malkhasyan, A., Asmaryan, S. (2005). The Persian Leopard Prowls Its Way to Survival. Endangered Species Update 22 (2): 51–60.
  14. ^ Gavashelishvili, A.; Lukarevskiy, V. (2008). "Modelling the habitat requirements of leopard Panthera pardus in west and central Asia". Journal of Applied Ecology. 45 (2): 579–588. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2007.01432.x. 
  15. ^ a b c d e WWF (2007). Strategy for the Conservation of the Leopard in the Caucasus Ecoregion. Strategic Planning Workshop on Leopard Conservation in the Caucasus. Tbilisi, Georgia, 30 May – 1 June 2007.
  16. ^ Sanei, A., Zakaria, M. (2011). Distribution pattern of the Persian leopard (“Panthera pardus saxicolor”) in Iran. Asia Life Sciences Supplement 7: 7–18.
  17. ^ Farhadinia, M., Nezami, B., Mahdavi, A. and H. Kaveh (2007). Photos of Persian Leopard in Alborz Mountains, Iran Cat News 46: 34–35.
  18. ^ Farhadinia, Mahdavi, A., Hosseini-Zavarei, F. (2009). Reproductive ecology of Persian leopard, Panthera pardus saxicolor, in Sarigol National Park, northeastern Iran. Zoology in the Middle East 48, 2009: 13–16.
  19. ^ Ghoddousi, A., Hamidi, A. Kh., Ghadirian, T., Ashayeri, D., Khorozyan, I. (2010). The status of the Endangered Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor in Bamu National Park, Iran. Oryx 44 (4): 551–557. (Excerpts)
  20. ^ Khorozyan, I. (2003). The Persian leopard in Armenia: research and conservation. Proceedings of Regional Scientific Conference “Wildlife Research and Conservation in South Caucasus”, 7–8 October 2003, Yerevan, Armenia: 161–163.
  21. ^ Khorozyan, I., Malkhasyan, A. (2002). Ecology of the leopard (Panthera pardus) in Khosrov Reserve, Armenia: implications for conservation. Scientific Reports of the Zoological Society “La Torbiera” 6: 1–41.
  22. ^ Khorozyan, I., Malkhazyan, A. G., Abramov, A. (2008). "Presence – absence surveys of prey and their use in predicting leopard (Panthera pardus) densities: a case study from Armenia." Integrative Zoology 2008, 3: 322–332.
  23. ^ Бабаева, З. (2007). Представителю Бакинского офиса Всемирного Фонда охраны дикой природы удалось впервые сфотографировать в Азербайджане живого леопарда. Day.Az, 14 March 2007. (In Russian. English translation: According to the Representative of the WWF Baku Office it was possible for the first time to photograph a leopard in Azerbaijan.)
  24. ^ Исабалаева, И. (2012). В Гирканском национальном парке Азербайджана обнаружен еще один кавказский леопард Archived 2 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine.. (In Russian. English translation: One Caucasian leopard found again in Azerbaijan's Hirkan National Park.), 29 November 2012.
  25. ^ Anonymous (2012). Another Caucasian leopard spotted in Azerbaijan News.Az, 29 November 2012.
  26. ^ (2013). Azərbaycanda bəbirlərin sayı artır.
  27. ^ Antelava, N. (2004). Lone leopard spotted in Georgia. BBC News, 25 May 2004
  28. ^ World Bulletin (2013). "Panthera pardus" spotted in Turkey. World Bulletin, 11 September 2013.
  29. ^ Hürriyet Daily News (2013). Shepherd kills first Anatolian leopard sighted in Turkey for years Hürriyet Daily News, 3 November 2013.
  30. ^ Breitenmoser, U. (2013). The Persian leopard at risk. Cat News 59: Editorial.
  31. ^ Выпущенные неделю назад леопарды осваивают Кавказский заповедник. RIA Novosti. 22 July 2016.
  32. ^ Россия и Азербайджан создадут резерват для переднеазиатского леопарда. RIA Novosti. 11 August 2016.
  33. ^ Hamidi, A. H. K. (2008). Persian Leopard Ecology and Conservation in Bamu National Park, Iran. Cat Project of the Month – March 2008
  34. ^ Farhadinia, M.S., Nezami, B., Hosseini-Zavarei, F., Valizadeh, M. (2009). Persistence of Persian leopard in a buffer habitat in northeastern Iran. Cat News 51: 34–36.
  35. ^ Sanei, A., Zakaria, M., Hermidas, S. (2011). Prey composition in the Persian leopard distribution range in Iran. Asia Life Sciences Supplement 7: 19–30.
  36. ^ Sanei, A., Zakaria, M. (2009). Primary threats to Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Proceedings of the 8th International Annual Symposium on Sustainability Science and Management. 3–4 May 2009. Diterbitkan Oleh, Terengganu, Malaysia
  37. ^ Sanei, A., Zakaria, M. (2011). Survival of the Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) in Iran: Primary threats and human-leopard conflicts. Asia Life Sciences Supplement 7: 31–39.
  38. ^ Sanei, A.; Mousavi, M.; Mousivand, M.; Zakaria, M. (2012). "Assessment of the Persian leopard mortality rate in Iran". Proceedings of UMT 11th International Annual Symposium on Sustainability Science and Management: 1458–1462. 
  39. ^ Schwartzstein, P. (2014). "For Leopards in Iran and Iraq, Land Mines Are a Surprising Refuge". National Geographic. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  40. ^ Henschel, P., Hunter, L., Breitenmoser, U., Purchase, N., Packer, C., Khorozyan, I., Bauer, H., Marker, L., Sogbohossou, E., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C. (2008). "Panthera pardus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  41. ^ International Species Information System (2011). "ISIS Species Holdings: Panthera pardus saxicolor, December 2011". 
  42. ^ Habitat preferences by the Persian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor Pocock, 1927) in Armenia by Igor Khorozyan; at Taylor, Francis Online
  43. ^ WWF (2009). Flying Turkmen leopards to bring species back to Caucasus. WWF, 23 September 2009
  44. ^ Druzhinin, A. (2010). Iranian leopards make themselves at home in Russia's Sochi. RIA Novosti, 6 May 2010
  45. ^ WWF (2013). "First Persian leopard cubs born in Russia for 50 years". World Wide Fund for Nature International, 18 July 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

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