Description and Behavior
See main species account under SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA. Across their wide range in North Africa and
South-West Asia, leopards have so far been studied only in Israel’s Judean Desert, a pristine mountainous
region bordering the Dead Sea, where 6-9 individuals have been radio-collared and monitored since 1979
(Ilani 1990). These leopards prey mainly on rock hyrax, followed by ibex and porcupine. Ilani
(1981) observed a female leopard hunt hyrax by leaping blindly over large boulders, surprising a
group of hyrax on her fourth attempt and killing a young male. Roberts (1977) records an incident
of a pair of leopards attacking a camel in Baluchistan, but describes more typical prey as smaller female and
sub-adult Sind ibex and markhor, as well as porcupine. Ibex and hyrax were also reported, along with the
Arabian red-legged partridge, to be the principal prey of leopards in Oman (Daly 1990). Wild pig
were reported as major prey in the forests of northern Algeria (Kobelt 1886, cited in Kowalski and
Rzebik-Kowalska 1991) and northern Iran (Joslin 1990a). In the Caucasus mountains, leopards
are believed to prey primarily on wild goats and moufflon (M. Akhverdian in litt. 1993). In
Turkmenistan, the leopard’s range almost totally coincides with that of Turkmenian sheep (Heptner and
Sludskii 1972), but where these have been depleted wild boar are the major prey (Lukarevsky 1993).
Leopards from the Arabian peninsula are pale in color and of small average size (Harrison and Bates
1991). Further north, in the Judean Desert, one male leopard weighed 30 kg and two females averaged
23 kg (Ilani 1981). Leopards attain larger size in the mountains of Iran and Central Asia, with
recorded weights for males up to 90 kg (Harrington 1977). Leopards in these areas are often referred
to as “snow leopards” in local parlance because of their light color and long-haired winter coat (Ognev 1935,
Hatt 1959, Harrington 1977).
Habitat and Distribution
Leopards are believed to be absent from the true desert of the central Arabian peninsula (Harrison and
Bates 1991), although they are found near the Dead Sea, where annual rainfall is less than 50 mm
(Ilani 1990). Pine forest and Mediterranean scrub are also suitable habitats for the species in
north-west Africa (Drucker 1990, Kowalski and Rzebik-Kowalska 1991), Iran (Joslin 1990a),
and the Caucasus (Ognev 1935). Throughout the region they are confined chiefly to the more remote
montane and rugged foothill areas (Figure 3), ranging up to 1,800
m in Turkmenistan (Bragin 1990), 3,000 m in Morocco (Drucker 1986), 2,600 m in Saudi
Arabia (Biquand 1990) and 3,200 m in Iran (Misonne 1959).
Global: Category 5(A)
Regional: Category 3(A)
IUCN: South Arabian subspecies nimr Endangered (Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen);
North Persian subspecies saxicolor Indeterminate (Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan).
Other “subspecies” in the region can also be considered Endangered: the Anatolian leopard tulliana in western
Turkey, the Caucasus mountains leopard ciscaucasia, and the Sinai leopard jarvisi of southern Israel and the Sinai.
Leopards have fared better than the other big cats -- lion, tiger, cheetah -- which historically occurred in the region.
The tiger is extinct, the lion is represented by a single population in India, and the cheetah’s range is a small
fraction of what it once was. However, the future of the leopard is far from secure. Throughout the region, leopards
generally exist as small, threatened, and widely separate and isolated populations (Shoemaker 1993).
Leopard Population Status by Country
Protection Status: CITES Appendix I
Algeria, Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia,
No legal protection:
Lebanon, Oman, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Syria, Tajikistan, Yemen (IUCN Environmental Law Centre
1986, Shoemaker 1993; M. Akhverdian, A. Bukhnicashvili, E. Mukhina, A. Serhal in litt. 1993)
Small isolated populations are vulnerable to disruption of healthy population dynamics, as has been
documented by Ilani (1990) for the leopards of the Judean Desert. In 1978, the population of
roughly 20 individuals - a low number to begin with -- had a sex ratio of one adult male: 2.5 females. Since
then, four females were killed by humans, and the only surviving cubs were two males. As of 1989, there
had been no recruitment since 1984, as all cubs born to the one fertile female were killed by the father, and
no immigration has been recorded from the adjacent population in the Negev Desert. Moreover, there were
three different cases of a female mating and producing cubs with her son and, by 1989, there remained only
two adult females in the population, both too old to breed.
The ungulate prey base throughout the region has in many places been severely reduced (East 1992a,b),
which probably accounts at least in part for the leopard’s widespread reputation as a killer of domestic stock
(Hassinger 1965, Roberts 1977, Harrison and Bates 1991, Lukarevsky 1993). S. Biquand (in litt.
1993) reports predation on young camels near Medina in Saudi Arabia, and has found sheep and goat hair
in leopard scats. There are numerous reports of local people going to extraordinary lengths to kill leopards
reported in their vicinity, organizing hunting parties which do not return until the leopard is found and shot
(Borner 1977, Habibi 1977, Gasperetti et al. 1986, Anon. 1989c, Harrison and Bates 1991, Anon. 1993f).