Worldwide, leopards have lost about 75 percent of their historic range, according to a new survey – the first to attempt to get a glimpse of the big cat's remaining global paw print.
The analysis was produced by a group of partner organizations, including the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Panthera.
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The researchers, whose findings have been published in the journal PeerJ, studied more than 1,300 sources containing information on the cat's current and historic ranges.
Meanwhile, mapping firm BIOGEOMAPS reconstructed the animal's historic range and overlaid it with the current assessments.
"This allowed us to compare detailed knowledge on its current distribution with where the leopard used to be and thereby calculate the most accurate estimates of range loss," said the firm's Peter Gerngross, who co-authored the study, in a statement.
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The results painted a grim picture for the standard-bearer leopard Panthera pardus and its nine subspecies (also included in the range analysis).
The study found that the leopard's range today occupies 3.3 million square miles (8.5 million square kilometers) – down from its historic range of 13.5 million square miles (35 million square kilometers).
"Our results challenge the conventional assumption in many areas that leopards remain relatively abundant and not seriously threatened," said lead author Andrew Jacobson, of the ZSL, who added that the leopard's notoriously elusive nature may have helped hide evidence of its decline.
The team notes a near disappearance of leopards in several parts of Asia as well as continued struggles of the animal in Africa, especially in the north and west of the continent.
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The researchers said that more attention needed to be paid to the most at-risk subspecies.
"We found that while leopard research was increasing," the authors wrote, "research effort was primarily on the subspecies with the most remaining range, whereas subspecies that are most in need of urgent attention were neglected."
"Of these subspecies," said Jacobson, "the Javan leopard (P. p. melas) is currently classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, while another - the Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya) - is classified as endangered, highlighting the urgent need to understand what can be done to arrest these worrying declines."