Population status of the Persian Leopard
(Panthera pardus saxicolor Pocock, 1927) in Iran
by Bahram H. Kiabi, Bijan F. Dareshouri, Ramazan Ali Ghaemi,
and Mehran Jahanshahi
Abstract. The range of the Leopard is still known to include large areas of Iran. Data have been
gathered mainly at nine sites since 1976. The results show that there are about 550–850 specimens
in Iran, some 55% of which live in protected areas.
Kurzfassung. Die Verbreitung des Leoparden schliesst weite Teile des Iran ein. Aktuelle Daten
seit 1976 wurden vor allem in neun Gebieten gesammelt. Die Ergebnisse zeigen, dass im Iran
noch etwa 550–850 Leoparden leben, 55% davon in Schutzgebieten.
Key words. Large cats, distribution, zoogeography, threatened animals, Persia, Middle East.
The Leopard (Panthera pardus) is well known and widely distributed in Iran. There are
several places in Iran with the Persian (Farsi) name of Palang-Kuh, which means leopard
mountain (Palang = leopard and Kuh = mountain).
Iranian Leopards are very variable in size and colouration: both heavy and pale specimens
as well as light and dark specimens are found in different localities. NOWELL & JACKSON
(1996) recognize three subspecies occurring on Iranian territory: P. p. saxicolor Pocock
1927, P. p. dathei Zukowsky 1964, and P. p. ciscaucasica Satunin 1964. However, accord-
ing to MITHTHAPALA (1992), P. p. dathei is not a valid name, and ciscaucasica seems to be a
synonym of saxicolor. It therefore seems that both the smaller and darker Leopards of the
south and the larger and paler Leopards of the north are all better referred to as saxicolor.
The aim of this study was to collect information on the status of the Leopard in Iran, to
make a rough assessment of the population size, and to identify the reasons for the decline of
the species in this country.
Starting in 1976, one of us (B. H. KIABI) organized a survey among game wardens and hunters to
obtain information on Leopard distribution and abundance. The interviews were conducted
mainly by ourselves and also by some of our undergraduate and graduate students all over the
country. The results of the interviews may be regarded as “guestimates”, combining substantiated
estimates with guesses of the population size, often taking the size of potential habitats into
Zoology in the Middle East 26, 2002: 41–47.
ISSN 0939-7140 © Kasparek Verlag, Heidelberg
42 Zoology in the Middle East 26, 2002
Fig. 1. Distribution of the Leopard in Iran. Numbers refer to important areas with Leopards in Iran
(see Tab. 1 for the sites’ names).
account. Most field observations were made during the winter seasons when the large cats are
quite active during day time, searching for mates. Population distribution and abundance were
also determined by means of mapping defecation sites and scat freshness levels. Photos and
measurements were taken of live and dead specimens whenever possible.
Results and discussion
The total area of the Leopard’s distribution range is around 885,300 km². Put another way,
leopards live in 50% of the total land mass of Iran.
Tab. 1 gives preliminary data on the abundance of the Persian Leopard in Iran. According
to this information, there are nine important or major localities for the Leopard in Iran (Fig.
1), most of them within protected areas. For the time being, there are about 550-850 Leop-
ards in Iran (the rounded total of figures given in Tab. 1). This figure is not a population
census, but a first guess. This figure of course may be disputed, and there is no agreement on
the abundance and distribution of the Leopard among zoologists in this country (which is
Fig. 2. A large male Leopard killed on the road at Golestan National Park in 1997. Photo: M. JAHANSHAHI.
Fig. 3. A male Leopard shot in Turkman Sahra, next to the border with Turkmenistan (Chapar-Ghoymeh),
in 1995. Photo: R. A. GHAEMI 1995.
44 Zoology in the Middle East 26, 2002
Fig. 4. A young Leopard shot in Ramsar, 1994. Photo: H. VARASTEH.
Fig. 5. An average size male Leopard, Bamu National Park, 1995. Photo: B. F: DARESHOURI.
Tab. 1. Rough estimation of the present population of the Persian Leopard in Iran.
A. Better studied area (about 3300 km²).
no. locality population size main threats
1 Tandoreh National Park 12–18 none
2 Golestan National Park 30–45 road kill
3 Chapur-Ghoymeh 4–6 shooting to protect livestock
4 Safee Abad-Dozain (Minoo Dasht) 5–10 shooting to protect livestock
5 Jahan Nama Protected Area 6–10 none
6 Ramsar 5–10 shooting to protect livestock
7 Darestan-Rudbar 10–15 shooting to protect livestock
8 Dena Protected Area 5–10 none
9 Bamu National Patk 15–20 none
B. Other protected areas (about 68,000 km²). The population size has been estimated in two
different ways (B-1 and B-2, respectively).
area pop. size estimated total main threats
Estimation B-1 North of 34°N 140–240 poaching
South of 34°N 70–120 210-360 poaching
Estimation B-2 West of 56°E 150–250 poaching
East of 56°E 60–110 210-360 poaching
C. Remaining potential habitats (about 814,000 km²). The population size has been estimated in
two different ways (C-1 and C-2, respectively).
area pop. size estimated total main threats
Estimation C-1 North of 34°N 120–150 poaching
South of 34°N 130–200 250-350 poaching
Estimation C-2 West of 56°E 160–200 poaching
East of 56°E 90–150 250-350 poaching
Tab. 2. Some characters of five specimens of Persian Leopards. MR = number of middorsal
rossets (between shoulder and tail base); LSL = the largest spot diameter on leg; LSB = the larg-
est spot diameter on belly; LR = the largest rosset diameter; ADR = average distance between
rossets. The figures for the specimen from Bamu NP are approximate figures, based on six differ-
ent photos of the same specimen.
Golestan NP 2 1 213 86 0.73 19 35x25 55x45 60x62 27
3 2 212 66 0.73 21 40x35 44x41 50x69 28
Ramsar 6 3 204 ? 0.76 19 40x40 60x25 60x40 25
Darestan 7 – 175 ? 0.75 22 45x40 50x45 62x50 25
Bamu NP 9 5, 6 200 ? 0.70 20 40x40 – 60x60 25
46 Zoology in the Middle East 26, 2002
Fig. 6. Another photo of the same male Leopard as in Fig. 5 (Bamu National Park, 1995).
Photo: B. F. DARESHOURI.
Fig. 7. The largest skull of a male Leopard so far found comes from Golestan National Park, 1990.
The skull owner is A. R. MEHRJOU.
understandable). More in-depth investigations and an effort to make a national survey with
the help of more trained and qualified people will certainly give more realistic figures and a
better picture of the Leopard’s status in Iran. Generally speaking, there is always a tendency
to overestimate the population size. Nowadays, as the natural prey (mainly wild ungulates)
has become so scarce, Leopards have to occupy large territories. As a result, single individu-
als may be recorded at different places, and therefore be recorded several times.
The rough estimation of the present population of the Persian Leopard in areas other than
the nine better studied areas (Tab. 1B and 1C) was obtained by unconfirmed information
provided by local people, limited field efforts and photographs of tracks (usually of poor
quality). Most field efforts were hindered by the rough terrain, harsh environment, large size
of the potential habitat, lack of necessary equipment, and limited time available. These esti-
mations are divided into groups based on latitude 34°N and longitude 56°E. It is almost
certain that Leopards are more abundant in the north compared to the south, and more abun-
dant in the west compared to the east. In other words, more Leopards live in the north and
northwest than in the south and southeast (cf. Tab. 1).
The coat pattern (spots and rossets) of specimens from the north and the south are quite
similar (Tab. 2 and Figs. 2–6). Our findings are in agreement with ETEMAD (1985), that there
are no geographic differences which would justify a taxonomic separation.
The largest skull as well as the largest specimens in terms of body weight come from Go-
lestan National Park (see also TAJBAKHSH & JAMALI 1995): The length of the skull is 288
mm, its width 181 mm (cf. Figs. 2 and 7).
There are numerous current threats which could have a detrimental effect on Persian
Leopard populations, including accidental and deliberate killing and habitat loss. The Leop-
ards are probably still killed in significant numbers because of their alleged attacks on live-
stock. However, it is probably hard to obtain reliable data on the extent of direct killing of
Leopards because of their protected status.
Acknowledgement. The great help of Mr. SAFAR POURALI DARESTANI is appreciated for providing informa-
tion about Leopards in Darestan.
ETEMAD, E. (1985): The Mammals of Iran [In Farsi]. Vol. 2. – Department of Environment,
MITHTHAPALA, S. (1992): Genetic and morphological variation in the Leopard (Panthera pardus),
a geographically widespread species. – PhD thesis, Univerity of Florida, Gainesville.
NOWELL, K. & P. JACKSON (1996): Wild cats. – IUCN, 382 pp.
TAJBAKHSH, H. & S. JAMALI (1995): Nakhjeeran (games and hunting) [In Farsi]. – Museum of
Nature and Wildlife of Iran, Tehran.
Authors’ addresses: Assis. Prof. Dr. Bahram H. Kiabi, Department of Biology, Faculty of Sci-
ences, Shahid Beheshti University, Evin, Tehran, Iran. E-mail: email@example.com. – Bijan F.
Dareshouri, Office of Environment, QFA, Qeshm Island, Iran. – Ramazan A. Ghaemi, Mehran
Jahanshahi, Golestan Provincial Office of Environment, Gorgan, Iran.