Despite its ubiquitous distribution and large size, the leopard’s cryptic and solitary nature means it remains one of Africa’s most loved but least known large carnivores.
Leopards can live in broad range of habitat but are most successful in woodland, grassland savanna and forest. However, they occur widely from coastal scrubby areas to high mountain ranges, as well as urban areas where they feed on domestic dogs. They also have diverse diets ranging from beetles and rodents to large ungulates.
Whilst leopards may be common or abundant in many protected areas and public lands with low human density, the species is increasingly uncommon across the continent. It is estimated that leopards have disappeared from nearly 40% of their historical range in Africa - including Zanzibar, where there have been no confirmed records since the 1990s. This trend is a concern given their dominant role in many ecosystems. Tanzania is one of their remaining African strongholds.
Leopard numbers are declining in many areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation as well as hunting for trade and livestock defence. A rapidly increasing threat is also the poisoning of carcasses both specifically targeting carnivores, or as a side effect of veterinary drugs. The impact of the safari hunting industry on leopards is unknown although a CITES-approved quota of 500 per annum is approved each year. Currently described by the IUCN Red List as ‘Near Threatened’ leopards may soon be reclassified as Vulnerable.
WCS has studied leopards in the Southern Highlands, the Udzungwa Mountains, and across the north of the country in order to provide conservation management advice. Camera trapping and socioeconomic data have also been collected in Zanzibar in an effort to ascertain if the leopards still persist on Unguja.