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Leopard numbers dwindling, study finds

A leopard walks through a section of Mondulkiri Protected Forest in the Kingdom’s Eastern Plains in 2009. WWF
A leopard walks through a section of Mondulkiri Protected Forest in the Kingdom’s Eastern Plains in 2009. WWF

Leopard numbers dwindling, study finds

Indochinese leopards should be classified as endangered, according to a new report that highlights the dwindling numbers of the species in Cambodia and Southeast Asia.

The study, published in Biological Conservation earlier this week, estimated a regional population of between 973 and 2,503 of the mammals.

Cambodia is thought to have just 132 leopards, with between 18 and 55 of those adults believed capable of breeding.

In Mondulkiri province the leopard, which is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, saw a 70 per cent decline between 2009 and 2014. Only two leopards have been detected in Preah Vihear province in the past three years.

“Poaching for the wildlife trade was likely the main reason for the decline of leopard numbers,” the report noted. “Recently interviewed poachers . . . received $55–$60 per [kilogram] of leopard bones from Vietnamese traders.

“Unless more effective protection is provided, poaching might soon lead to the extirpation of the leopard population in Eastern Plains Landscape, similar to that recently observed for tiger.”

Wildlife Alliance founder Suwanna Gauntlett said there had been no sign of the leopard in the southwest Cardamom Mountains for more than a decade: “Leopards have mostly disappeared from protected areas in Cambodia due to weak law enforcement and heavy poaching.”

Ministry of Environment spokesman Sao Sopheap said the drop in numbers was concerning, adding that the ministry was training more rangers to improve capacity and law enforcement.

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