Leopards are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because of habitat loss and fragmentation, prey declines, persecution, and exploitation.
Due to their wide geographic range, secretive nature and habitat tolerance, leopards are difficult to categorize as a single species.
Evidence suggests that leopard populations have been dramatically reduced due to continued persecution with increased human populations, habitat fragmentation, increased illegal wildlife trade, excessive harvesting for ceremonial use of skins, prey base declines and poorly managed trophy hunting. Throughout North, East, and West Africa, and Middle East, East, and South-east Asia, leopards have suffered marked reductions and regional extirpations due to poaching for illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, and prey loss.
Human populations have increased by 2.57% annually from 1994 to 2014 driving a 57% increase in the conversion of potential leopard habitat to agricultural areas from 1975 to 2000. Deforestation in South-east Asia has increased for palm oil and rubber plantations. These factors were not incorporated in the previous assessment and likely have a substantial impact on suitable leopard range.
Comparison of the extent of extant range presented in this assessment (8,515,935 km²) with that produced by Red List Assessors in 2007 (21,953,435 km²) yields a range reduction of 61%. However the severity of this reduction is inaccurate due to previous insufficient sampling, and the reduction has likely occurred over a longer time scale. Though our knowledge of the leopard distribution is better today than in 2008, it is still limited at the national, regional, and range-wide scales because reliable data on leopard population trends are missing from large portions of their range. We suspect, however, that at least half of the reduction translates to real and relatively recent range loss.
Taken all together, the leopard meets the A2cd criterion for Vulnerable, based on loss of habitat and prey, and exploitation. These causes of the suspected reduction are not well understood, have not ceased, and are likely to continue, and future decline is anticipated unless conservation efforts are taken.
• Image | © Cloudtail the Snow Leopard, Some Rights Reserved (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
• Sources | (Balme, Slotow, & Hunter, 2009; Brink & Eva, 2009; Datta, Anand, & Naniwadekar, 2008; du Toit, Walker, & Campbell, 2004; Fusari & Carpaneto, 2006; Hatton, Couto, Miettinen, Shi, & Liew, 2011; Hunt, 2011; Oglethorpe, 2001; Lindsey, et al., 2014; Selvan, Lyngdoh, Habib, & Gopi, 2014; Sodhi, et al., 2010; Stein, et al., 2016; Thorn, Green, Scott, & Marnewick, 2013; UN, 2014)