Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Panthera pardus ssp. saxicolor
Species Authority: Pocock, 1927
Parent Species:
Common Name(s):
English Persian Leopard, North Persian Leopard, Central Asian Leopard, Caucasian Leopard, West Asian Leopard
Panthera pardus (Satunin, 1914) subspecies ciscaucasica
Panthera pardus Zukowsky, 1959 subspecies dathei
Panthera pardus Pocock, 1930 subspecies sindica
Panthera pardus Zukowsky, 1964 subspecies transcaucasica
Taxonomic Notes: This subspecies has been validated by genetic (Miththapala et al. 1996, Uphyrkina et al. 2001) and morphological (Khorozyan et al. 2006) analyses. However, its name and geographic range are uncertain.

While P. p sindica, described from Pakistan (Pocock 1927), was subsumed into P. p. saxicolor according to genetic analysis of a single sample (Miththapala et al. 1996, Uphyrkina et al. 2001), morphological analysis was able to reliably distinguish the two (Khorozyan et al. 2006). Uphyrkina et al. (2001) also subsumed P. p. tulliana, described from western Turkey, into P. p. saxicolor; however, they lacked any biological samples and did so on the basis of geographic proximity. However, morphological analysis was able to distinguish the two subspecies (Khorozyan et al. 2006), and a review of taxonomy by Ullrich and Riffel (2003) concluded that P. p. tulliana was a distinct subspecies restricted to southwestern Turkey, but not eastern Turkey. This would be the smallest geographic range for any leopard subspecies. Yet Khorozyan (pers. comm. 2008) notes that many Russian scientists have used P. p. tulliana rather than saxicolor for leopards of the former Soviet Republics (e.g., Shakula 2004).

Morphological (Khorozyan et al. 2006) and preliminary genetic analysis (C. Fernandes pers. comm. to I. Khorozyan, 2008) suggest that this subspecies' range includes eastern Turkey, the Caucasus mountains, northern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, and parts of western Afghanistan, although the transition to P. p. sindica is unclear. Genetic analysis of leopard samples from Iran showed surprising diversity, and suggests that the leopard population in the south (Zagroz Mountains) groups with P. p. sindica.

Khorozyan et al. (2006) propose that the subspecies be renamed P. p. ciscaucasica (Satunin, 1914), as according to the taxonomic rule of priority this name was introduced earlier than P. p. saxicolor (Pocock, 1927). While acknowledging that it is a junior synonym, Lukarevsky et al. (2007) proposed retaining P. p. saxicolor, in part because this name has previously been used on the IUCN Red List. Meanwhile, the continued existence of the Anatolian Leopard, P. p. tulliana, in southwestern Turkey is uncertain, but if any further analysis subsumes it within this taxon, then it should be renamed P. p. tulliana, as the oldest scientific name (Valenciennes, 1856).

Ongoing research should yield a more precise definition of this subspecies range, and coalescence around the most appropriate scientific and common names. Further research is necessary to define the precise geographic extent of this subspecies, and the active leopard conservation community in the region should agree on the primary scientific and common names.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered C2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Khorozyan, I.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Hoffmann, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
By compiling national estimates (which include adults, sub-adults and cubs), the total number of mature individuals of this subspecies is fewer than 871-1,290. The most recent crude national population estimates are: 550-850 in Iran; 200-300 (?) in Afghanistan; 78-90 in Turkmenistan; <10-13 in Armenia; <10-13 in Azerbaijan; 3-4 in Nagorno-Karabakh; <5 in Georgia; < 10 in Russian North Caucasus; < 5 in Turkey (Khorozyan et al., 2005; Lukarevsky et al., 2007). Iran is the leopard stronghold in the Middle East (estimated range 885,300 km²: Kiabi et al. 2002), and supports the viability of the small leopard subpopulations in the Caucasus, eastern Turkey and, possibly, in Turkmenistan through transboundary emigrations (Khorozyan & Abramov, 2007). However, leopard densities even in Iran are believed to be very low (Farhadinia et al. 2007) – 0.06-0.1 individual/100 km² based on guesstimates in Kiabi et al. (2002). The status of the leopard in Afghanistan is poorly known. Habibi (2004) described it as threatened, noting that it is only rarely encountered in the more remote parts of its montane range, due to hunting for fur trade and killing in defense of livestock.

The most urgent threat is ever-increasing fragmentation into a patchy network of distant and often too small subpopulations. No subpopulation across the entire range is believed to contain more than 100 mature individuals (I. Khorozyan pers. comm. 2008). In the Caucasus, corridors are urgently needed to link fragmented populations (Breitenmoser et al. 2007).

Prey reduction from poaching, infrastructure development, disturbance and habitat loss (collection of edible plants and mushrooms, mining, road construction, deforestation, wild fire and livestock grazing) are the driving forces of range fragmentation, and leave vast tracts of mountainous habitats unsuitable for resident leopard subpopulations. The inter-patch hostile environments can be crossed by dispersing sub-adult leopards, but such movements are risky and often end up with killings of predators that actually or allegedly kill livestock in order to survive (Khorozyan et al., 2005; Lukarevsky et al., 2007). Only a handful of protected areas (all in Iran) are large enough to maintain viable leopard subpopulations (Kiabi et al. 2002, Breitenmoser et al. 2007, I. Khorozyan pers. comm. 2008).

Mountainous habitats are naturally discontinuous and patchy what aggravates the impacts of fragmentation.
Direct poaching occurs as trophy hunting for sales on fur markets (Afghanistan), shooting to alleviate predation on livestock (Iran, Turkmenistan) and killings upon encounter (Caucasus, eastern Turkey) (Lukarevsky, 2001; Habibi, 2004; Mishra & Fitzherbert, 2004; Farhadinia et al., 2007; Khorozyan & Abramov, 2007). It is not widespread, but makes a substantial impact on population viability due to small population size. This is especially true in the Caucasus where the population is thinly distributed over the vast areas and removal of just one individual delays replenishment by immigrants and hampers overall demographic stabilization. As a result, even in optimal prey-rich areas (e.g., in southern Armenia) actual leopard density is much lower than predicted from prey abundance (I. Khorozyan pers. comm. 2008). Political conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (warfare ceased in 1995) entails the factors that boost poaching: military training and testing grounds, border posts, intensification of agriculture and mining in safety zones and re-settling of previously abandoned villages (I. Khorozyan pers. comm. 2008). Leopard occurrence is inversely related to human densities and, hence, to settlements and infrastructure throughout the region (Gavashelishvili & Lukarevskiy, 2008; I. Khorozyan pers. comm. 2008).
Previously published Red List assessments:
1996 Endangered (EN)
1994 Indeterminate (I)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Citation: Khorozyan, I. 2008. Panthera pardus ssp. saxicolor. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T15961A5334217. . Downloaded on 09 October 2015.
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