Asian Leopards “Functionally Extinct” In Cambodia; Conservation Groups Seek To Redouble Efforts In Rest Of Region

Any good news in conservation must be taken with a dose of sobering news. If India is recording record numbers of tigers, we must also recognize that Asian leopards are now thought to be “functionaly extinct” in Cambodia.

Functionally extinct means researchers can find little or no trace of an animal. It means that the population is gone or so small that it can not sustain itself.

Leopard's face closeup image
Leopards are large relentless predators but conflict with humans appears to have eliminated them from Cambodia.

The bad news comes after a survey of Cambodia by Panthera. Panthera is an international conservation group dedicated to saving wild cats. About 40 species of felines exist, and many are threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Tigers (Panthera tigris) have already disappeared from Cambodia. India is considering helping to restore the population if Cambodia can demonstrate the ability to protect them

Tigers, leopards (Panthera pardus) and Clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa) are all in danger in much of their Asian range. India and Nepal have had success in restoring tiger populations. But restoring tigers may impact leopards Presence of tigers can drive leopards away. Leopards are still present in significant numbers in Africa and India but face grave threats in other parts of their range.

A clouded leopard showing both the marbled coat pattern and the canines which are extra large in proportion to the body. Photo Wiley Online Library

The clouded leopard is also attracting increasing attention from conservationists. Like snow leopards (Uncia uncia or Panthera uncia) Clouded leopards are not true leopards. Despite the physical resemblances there are major differences. One of these is that fact that clouded leopards are the only surviving “saber-tooth” cats. They have the longest canines (proportionally) of any living cat. They are nocturnal and arboreal. It is believed their numbers have dipped below 10,000 world wide.

clouded leopard lying beside a wooden fence
Rest time. Clouded leopards weigh up to 50 pounds, They are much smaller then leopards and are the smallest of the big cats. About 70 live in U.S. zoo facilites, about 300 worldwide. iPhoto by Gokul K S on

Like Asian leopards they are victims of two conflicts with humans. Their habitat is increasingly populated, developed and urbanized. They are also hunted for meat, conflict with humans and the exotic animal trade.

Panthera said:

“Scientists are now issuing a grave warning of the Indochinese leopard’s impending extinction from the planet without immediate conservation funding and action in its remaining two strongholds in peninsular Malaysia and the Northern Tenasserim Forest Complex on the Thailand-Myanmar border. A lack of funding and competing species conservation priorities have largely prevented implementation of initiatives specifically targeting recovery and growth of the last Indochinese leopards. “

“The study involved a survey of two protected areas within Cambodia’s Eastern Plains Landscape and an aggregation of data from seven camera trap surveys conducted from 2009-2019. Alarmingly, scientists found the leopard population declined by 82% over 11 years, with data suggesting 42% of the population was lost each year. An additional survey in 2021 failed to detect leopard, suggesting the species now is functionally extinct (the population is no longer viable), if not fully extirpated, from the landscape. Over the study period, a drastic increase in human activity was also found, with a 20-fold increase in human activity and a 1,000-fold increase in the encounter rate of lethal traps (e.g., wildlife snare, metal snap traps) despite increases in law enforcement efforts. 

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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