In Cambodia, the world’s last breeding population of Indochinese leopards is on the brink of extinction.
Once widespread across Indochina – an area encompassing Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam – Indochinese leopard populations have declined by 72 percent over a five-year period. A study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal revealed one of the lowest concentrations of leopards ever reported in Asia – just one cat per 100 square kilometers (39 square miles).
"This population represents the last glimmer of hope for leopards in all of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – a subspecies on the verge of blinking out,” said study co-author Dr Jan Kamler in a statement. “No longer can we, as an international community, overlook conservation of this unique wild cat.”
News of the decreased population comes just two years after researchers announced the Indochinese leopard lost more than 95 percent of its range. Now, researchers estimate there are just over 1,000 breeding adults in Southeast Asia and expect the IUCN to list the subspecies as “critically endangered” this year.
Leopards are threatened by a number of things, nearly all of which are human-related. Illegal hunting to meet the world’s rising demand of bushmeat means poachers indiscriminately set snares that can capture and kill them, as well as decline their natural food sources.
As tiger populations continue to decrease, researchers say poachers are also turning to leopard skins and other body parts to sell through the illegal wildlife trade.
Oddly enough, this decline in tigers is providing space for the highly-adaptable and opportunistic leopards to fill a predatory void. Scientists found that leopards are feeding on banteng, a species of wild cattle five times larger than the leopard. They’re the only leopard that targets such a large prey and believe the cats have shifted their prey targets after local tiger populations went extinct in 2009.
From snow leopards to pumas, big cats on every continent are facing increasing pressures – and the world is beginning to pay attention.
“The story is similar for all the big cats," said UN Secretary‑General António Guterres in a statement. "They are collectively under threat from habitat loss, climate change, poaching, illicit trafficking, and human‑wildlife conflict. We are the cause of their decline, so we can also be their salvation."
The United Nations has dedicated its annual World Wildlife Day on March 3 to big cats under the banner “Big Cats: Predators Under Threat”.
"As the world gathers to celebrate World Wildlife Day this Saturday, we must band together in action, not just in words, to curb the epidemic of poaching facing this gorgeous big cat and others around the globe,” said Kamler.