It was once thought that there were as many as 27 leopard subspecies, which were described by naturalists between 1794 and 1956. Today, however, it is known that there are actually nine subspecies: African, Indian, Arabian or Erythrean, Persian or Central Asian, Chinese, Indochinese, Java, Sri Lankan and Amur or Siberian. It is unlikely you will ever encounter an Amur leopard, which is on the brink of extinction with less than 30 individuals known to still exist.
Fossils of ancestors of the leopard have been discovered in East Africa and South Asia, dating back to the Pleistocene between 2 and 3.5 million years ago. The modern leopard is thought to have evolved in Africa and spread out across Asia nearly a million years ago.
The leopard is the smallest of the four “big cats,” but it is probably the most versatile. Its historic range covers nearly every land type and climate, from dry true deserts and humid rain forests to the cold boreal forests of eastern Russia. Despite its adaptability, leopard species are in a near-continuous decline due to deforestation, hunting and encroaching human establishments.
There are conservation efforts going on around the world including in Botswana, where a Facial Recognition Research Project is in progress. This unique project uses groundbreaking facial recognition technology to monitor wildlife monitoring. Our guests can help gather data out in the field. This is the first time this has been attempted to include travelers in Africa. You are provided a camera with GPS capability, and the images you shoot are collected and send to the United Kingdom for scanning. The software can recognize individual species, principally leopards and the other big cats, and a movement map using the GPS data embedded in the image is created.
On another front in wildlife conservation is the increase in anti-poaching measures such as at Little Chem Chem in Tanzania. Its LiveWildlife’s wildlife protection strategy included the establishment of an anti-poaching unit in 2010. Currently, this unit patrols the area connecting the east side of Lake Manyara and the northwest side of Tarangire National Park, the location of Chem Chem Wildlife Concession and the re-established elephant migration route. It protects the area from poaching as well as ensuring the land is not being used for livestock grazing and agriculture.