Persian Leopard on verge of extinction

Financial Tribune- The western Lorestan Province is seeing fewer Persian leopards these days, which raises concern about the extinction of the rare animal.

According to a report by YJC, after Asiatic lion and Caspian tiger disappeared, the at-risk Persian leopards remain the biggest cat species in Iran, enhancing the animal’s ecological value and historical significance to the country.

The animal is found in forest and mountain habitats. Those inhabiting mountainous regions of western Iran are referred to as Zagros Leopard. Their habitats are the mountain steppes, rocky slopes and rugged ravines ranging from northwestern parts and spanning the whole length of the western and southwestern Iranian plateau in Lorestan and the Zagros mountain range.

Studies have shown that 71% of all Persian leopard fatalities are attributed to illegal hunting or poisoning by shepherds trying to protect their livestock. Reduced prey population and shrinkage of their natural habitats are other factors threatening the graceful, but imperiled, big cats.

The wildlife insurance plan renewed by the Department of Environment in May for five years is aimed at discouraging shepherds from killing the animal to protect their livestock.

Although awareness-raising is highly required among the locals, there are livestock owners like Nouruz Heidari who refuse to shoot the animal in spite of the loss of cattle.

“When the leopard attacked my grazing cattle and killed 44 of my sheep, I just tried to scare it off. I don’t want Nature to be emptied of wild creatures. They are the beauty of Nature,” he said.

In Iran, road accidents pose another main threat to the Persian leopards. According to DOE, 27% of all leopard deaths between 2007 and 2014 were caused by road accidents.

Over the past eight years, 166 leopards have died across the country.

Efforts to protect the Persian leopard will not only help the species, but also other wildlife, making the leopard an umbrella species. Due to its wide distribution, protecting the endangered species will help conserve the populations of other animals that share the same habitat.

According to Mehrdad Fat’hi Beyranvand, the head of the provincial DOE, the species was listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

“Preparing a map of the animal’s distribution and raising awareness among locals are among our plans to protect the rare cat,” he said.

Mahnaz Taqizadeh, the head of Legal Affairs Office at Lorestan’s DOE, said based on Directive 380 passed by the High Council of Environment, illegal hunters of any wild species in protected areas would be arrested.

“Persian Leopard poachers should additionally pay a fine of 800 million rials ($20,000),” she said.