The Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri), which has been classified as “Near Threatened” in 2008 by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a subspecies native to mainland Southeast Asia and into southern China. In its native land, Indochina, the animal is threatened mainly by poaching for illegal trade and habitat loss due to deforestation. As a result these leopards are becoming increasingly rare outside the protected areas. There is very likelihood that they may soon qualify for the “Vulnerable” status.
Habitat and Distribution
This handsome animal is found in South China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Myanmar’s Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary, leopard population declined so severely between 1940s and 80s, that by the year 2000 the animals were estimated being close to locally extinct.
Since the mid-1990s, leopard-oriented field research was carried out in only two protected areas in Thailand:
- In 1996, three leopards were fitted with radio-collars in the south–central part of Kaeng Krachan National Park, a hilly terrain with seasonal evergreen forest. The study revealed home ranges of two male leopards of 14.6–18.0 sq km (5.6–6.9 sq mi), and of a female of 8.8 square km (3.4 sq mi). All leopards preferred environment, where prey species accumulated and offered potential hunting opportunities — at lower elevations of 500–600 meters (1,600–2,000 ft), river and valley corridors, and the main road prior to higher elevations and forested terrain. Both males slightly extended their home range during the wet season of June to October.
- Between 1994 and 1999, ten leopards were fitted with radio-collars in the north-western part of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and followed over 9–41 months. The analysis of tracking data revealed mean annual home ranges of adult males of 35.2–64.6 km2 (13.6–24.9 sq mi). Six adult females had the largest in Asia recorded home ranges of 17.8–34.2 sq km (6.9–13.2 sq mi), which they all extended in the dry season from November to April. All leopards preferred dry evergreen and mixed deciduous forest with flat slope near water courses.
Between April 2003 to June 2004, 25 different leopards walked past camera traps set up over an area of 500 km2 (190 sq mi) in the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Laos. Leopards are reported to occur in Laos’ Nam Kan National Protected Area as well.
In Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary on the Thai-Malaysian border, only 2 leopards walked past camera traps deployed during October 2004 to October 2007.
In April 2010, a spotted leopard was camera-trapped in the Taman Negara Endau-Rompin National Park in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor, where previously only black leopards were believed to roam. There appears to be a disjunction around Isthmus of Kra, where population changes from predominantly black forms south of the Isthmus to predominantly spotted forms north of the Isthmus. Records from camera-trapping studies conducted at 22 locations in Peninsular Malaysia and southern Thailand between 1996 and 2009 show that only melanistic leopards were present in samples south of the Isthmus. In the dense tropical forest habitat in part of their range, melanism is quite common, and black leopards have a selective advantage for ambush.
There are few contiguous areas left where leopards have a chance of long-term survival. They are primarily threatened by habitat destruction following large–scale deforestation, and prey depletion through illegal hunting. Another serious threat is hunting for the illegal wildlife trade, which has the greatest potential to do maximum harm in minimal time.
Deforestation and Habitat destruction
Human traffic inside protected areas negatively affects leopard movements and activity. They show less diurnal activity in areas more heavily used by people. In villages located in Laos’ protected areas, consumption of deer and wild pig is estimated at about 28.2 kg annually per household — an off take amounting to 2,840 kg ungulates per 100 km2 (39 sq mi), which is equivalent to the meat required to sustain several leopards per 100 km2 (39 sq mi).
Illegal wildlife trade
Substantial domestic skin markets exist in Myanmar, in Malaysia for traditional medicines, and in China for skins and bones, latter particularly as substitute for tiger in traditional Asian medicines and tonics. In China, the use of stockpiles of leopard bone is still permitted by the government by medicinal manufacturers, despite the domestic trade ban.
In Myanmar, 215 body parts of at least 177 leopards were observed in four markets surveyed from 1991 to 2006. Among the body parts, a leopard penis and testes were openly traded, along with other parts of the freshly killed animal. Three of the surveyed markets are situated on international borders with China and Thailand, and cater to international buyers, although leopards are completely protected under Myanmar’s national legislation. Effective implementation and enforcement of CITES is considered inadequate.