The desperate fight to save the Indochinese Leopard

danger of extinction of indochinese leopard
The Indochinese leopard (Photo: News Intervention)

The Indochinese leopard, an iconic species once found throughout Indo-China, is now perilously near to extinction in Cambodia, a dreadful warning to wildlife enthusiasts and environmentalists. A decade-long investigation by wild cat conservationists reveals a grim reality: only 35 adult Indochinese leopards were identified in two protected locations between 2009 and 2019, and additional inspections in 2021 provided no sightings at all. The implications of this analysis, which was produced in conjunction with Panthera and Oxford University’s WildCRU and published in Biological Conservation, highlight the critical need for rapid action to prevent this majestic creature from becoming extinct.

A Vanishing Presence

The Indochinese leopard, which formerly thrived in the lush landscapes of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and southwestern China, has suffered a rapid decline due to persistent human encroachment. Hunters, driven by an insatiable need for wild meat, represent a serious threat to these elusive felines. The research emphasises the attractiveness of their thick, spotted coats, which are much sought after by poachers, as well as the catastrophic reduction in prey populations caused by habitat degradation. Tragically, over the study period, human activity in Cambodia expanded twentyfold, and fatal traps increased an astounding thousandfold, catching not only leopards but also harming 700 animal species in the region, including the Asian elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros.

A Disturbing Trend

Cambodia’s struggle against corruption and deforestation adds to the dangers faced by Indochinese leopards. Cambodia, ranked 150 out of 180 in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, confronts deep-seated corruption, impeding successful conservation efforts. According to the Global Forest Watch, the country has seen alarming rates of deforestation over the last two decades, losing about 557,000 hectares of tree cover in protected areas between 2001 and 2018.

As demonstrated by the violent arrest of five journalists in 2022 while covering a large-scale forestry operation in southern Cambodia, activists who bravely safeguard Cambodia’s forests face terrible dangers. Such occurrences underscore the importance of protecting both wildlife and individuals working to maintain the country’s natural heritage.

Adding the problem is the lack of a unified conservation programme dedicated to Indochinese leopards, owing to a lack of financing. Despite recent gains in combating poaching through enhanced local law enforcement, the research highlights the frightening extent of the illegal wildlife trade, needing a global collaborative response.

An Urgent Plea for Action

Panthera conservation expert and report lead author Susana Rostro-Garca emphasises the essential need for rapid intervention to prevent the Indochinese leopard from extinction. Without significant resources focused towards this rare subspecies’ last strongholds, extinction is a tragic certainty. Furthermore, Panthera’s leopard programme director, Gareth Mann, condemns the predicament of the Indochinese leopard, drawing parallels to the plight of the tiger in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

A Call for Change

Poaching efforts must go beyond punitive measures and involve broad attempts to limit game meat consumption proactively. The world community and conservationists must commit totally in rescuing the leopard along with the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar, making Indochina the focal point for preservation, just as it has become ground zero for poaching.

As the Indochinese leopard approaches extinction, immediate action is required to change this catastrophic trend. With the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifying it as “vulnerable” and the Indochinese leopard subspecies as “critically endangered,” the time to act is now. The globe must band together to tackle corruption, deforestation, and the illegal wildlife trade, while also aggressively reducing consumption of game meat. By doing so, we can protect Cambodia’s natural heritage and ensure that the enigmatic beauty of the Indochinese leopard roams the region’s forests, inspiring future generations.

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