Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor)
|Also known as:||north Persian leopard|
|Size||Head-body length: 91 - 191 cm (2)|
Tail length: 58 - 110 cm (2)
Male weight: 37 - 90 kg (2)
Female weight: 28 - 60 kg (2)
Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
Of the eight recognised subspecies of leopard found in the world, the rare Persian leopard is one of the largest (4). While size varies considerably throughout the geographic range of the leopard, the main characteristic features are shared by all subspecies. Typically, they have short legs and a powerful stocky frame, uniquely patterned with black rosettes on the back, flanks, shoulders and haunches and black spots and blotches on the head, throat, chest and belly (2) (4) (5). The background colour of their distinctive coat ranges from pale yellow to deep gold, with the exception of the underparts which are white from the chin to the tail (4) (5). The pattern of rosettes, spots and blotches extends to the tip of a long tail, which measures between 60 to 75 percent of the head and body length (4). The skull is conspicuously large in proportion to the rest of their body and allows for the powerful jaw muscles required to take larger prey (5).
The largest population of Persian leopards is found in Iran, with smaller populations occurring in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Russian North Caucasus and possibly in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (1) (6) (7).
The Persian leopard mainly inhabits remote and mountainous areas including dry, arid environments through to lush, deciduous forests and snowy ranges up to an altitude of 3,200 metres (5) (8).
Leopards in general have a broad diet and are able to adapt to fluctuations in availability of prey (4). Consequently, the diet of the Persian leopard varies throughout its range. In Iran, Armenia and Turkmenistan, bezoar goats, wild boar and mouflon (wild sheep) form the bulk of the leopard’s diet (5) (7) (9). Leopards hunt by using vantage points, such as trees and rocky outcrops, to locate prey and then stealthily stalk their target until close enough to pounce (2) (4). They are commonly considered to be nocturnal, but few studies have specifically considered the habits of the Persian leopard. However, in similar regions where large predators such as lions and tigers are absent, leopards are reportedly less nocturnal. Furthermore, as top predator, Persian leopards need be less concerned about concealing prey than their African and central Asian counterparts (4).
Leopards mark their well defined territories in a variety of ways such as ground scraping, urine spraying and tree scratching (10). Although normally solitary, males will sometimes remain with females for short periods following mating (2). The reproductive season is year round, but peaks during the winter, with one to four cubs being born following a gestation period of 90 to 105 days. The cubs reach independence and separate from their mother at 13 to 18 months, living for on average 10 to 15 years but potentially as long as 20 (5).
The relatively large geographic range of the Persian leopard belies its low overall population size. In 2005, it was estimated that less than 1,300 cats were left in the wild and these were to be found in small and increasingly fragmented populations (2) (5) (6). Historically, the Persian leopard was much more widespread in southwest Asia but hunting, habitat destruction and a decline in prey populations have seen their numbers plummet (2) (6) (7). In Afghanistan, the leopard fur trade is still rampant and ongoing civil unrest is further exacerbating the plight of these cats (6). The situation in Armenia is slightly different with human disturbance arising from livestock breeding and other farming practices having the largest impact (9). In Iran, which supports between 550 and 850 Persian leopards, shooting and poisoning of cats occurs in an effort to alleviate predation on livestock (7). This is not widespread, but makes a substantial impact on the viability of fragmented populations by forcing population sizes below a sustainable threshold (8).
The Persian leopard is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and in the absence of targeted conservation faces a very real threat of extinction in the wild (1) (9). Currently there are only a small number of documented projects in Iran, Armenia and Georgia striving to develop targeted conservation strategies for these leopards. These include gathering basic biological data, enlargement of existing protected areas, maintenance of habitat corridors through which leopards can move, and education of local communities to increase public awareness and concern for the species’ survival (6) (7) (9) (10).
For further information on the Persian leopard see:
- IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group:
- 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Persian leopard Project, Iran:
Authenticated (16/11/2008) by Arash Ghoddoosi, Head of Research and Biodiversity at the Plan for the Land Society,
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
CITES (April, 2008)
- Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. (2002) Wild Cats of the World. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. (1996) Wild Cats Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
Khorozyan, I., Malkhasyan, A. and Azmaryan, S. (2005) The Persian leopard prowls its way to survival. Endangered Species UPDATE, 22(2): 51 - 60. Available at:
- Kiabi, B.H., Dareshouri, B.F., Ghaemi, R.A. and Jahanshahi, M. (2002) Population status of the Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor Pocock,1927) in Iran. Zoology in the Middle East, 26: 41 - 47.
- Ghoddousi, A. (2008) Pers. comm.
Khorozyan, I. (2002) Assessment of adverse human impact on biodiversity in Armenia’s premier wilderness areas, Khosrov Reserve and Gndasar Mt./Noravank Canyon. The Whitley Laing Foundation for International Nature Conservation/Rufford Small Grant programme, UK. Available at:
- Ghoddousi, A., Kh. Hamidi, A., Ghadirian, T., Ashayeri, D., Hamzehpour, M., Moshiri, H., Zohrabi, H. and Julayi, L. (2008) Territorial marking by Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor Pocock, 1927) in Bamu National Park, Iran. Zoology in the Middle East, 44: 101 - 103.