Cambodia’s banteng-eating leopards edge closer to extinction, new study finds

Cambodia’s banteng-eating leopards edge closer to extinction, new study finds

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For ’s last remaining Indochinese leopards ( delacouri), extinction could be just around the corner, a new study has found. The only breeding population of this subspeciesin Cambodia is believed to occur within a large protected area complex in a part of the country called the Eastern Plains Landscape (EPL).

But in just five years, leopard density within one protected area in the EPL has fallen from about three leopards per 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) in 2009 to one leopard per 100 square kilometers in 2014, a team of scientists found.

Cambodia’s banteng-eating leopards edge closer to extinction, new study finds
An Indochinese leopard passes a camera trap in the study site. Camera trap image courtesy of Panthera/WildCRU/WWF Cambodia/FA.

This is one of the lowest densities of leopards reported in Asia, researchers write in the recent study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

“The low density means that this population of Indochinese leopard has a high risk of extirpation in the near future, unless effective conservation action is taken immediately,” said lead author Susana Rostro-García, a postdoctoral researcher at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford, U.K.

This decline is especially worrying because the Indochinese leopard has already been wiped out from 94 percent of its former range.

“This population in eastern Cambodia is the last remaining breeding population within a huge region spanning southeastern China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam,” said co-author Jan F. Kamler, Southeast Asia leopard program coordinator forPanthera, the global wild cat conservation organization. “So it’s critically important to try and save this unique population before it goes extinct.”

The loss of Cambodia’s Indochinese leopards would deprive the world of a unique member of the leopard family.

When the team analyzed leopard droppings collected from the study area, they found that the male leopard’s main prey was the massive, 500-kilogram-plus (1,100-pound-plus) rare wild cattle species called the banteng (Bos javanicus). This finding was unexpected, the researchers say.

An Indochinese leopard passes a camera trap in the study site. Camera trap image courtesy of Panthera/WildCRU/WWF Cambodia/FA.

Although previous research has recorded instances of African leopards preying on large-sized prey like or eland, these animals comprise a very small proportion of the leopard’s diet, the authors write. Instead, leopards, which typically weigh less than 90 kilograms (198 pounds) prefer to prey on smaller animals weighing about 10 to 40 kilograms (22 to 88 pounds).

By contrast, male Indochineseleopards in the eastern Cambodian study site appear to prey predominantly on an animal more than five times its mass, makingthis the only known leopard population in the world to do so.

The leopards there could be targeting banteng because the large herbivore represents about 70 percent of the available ungulate biomass within the study site, Rostro-García said.Moreover, tigers, whose main prey was the banteng, went locally extinct in the landscape a decade ago, allowing leopards to take over as the apex predator.

“Tigers kill and displace leopards, and previous research showed that when tigers are present, leopards consume smaller prey to avoid encounters with tigers,”Rostro-García said. “Thus, the leopards in eastern Cambodia likely changed their predatory behavior to include the banteng, the largest herbivore, which may have been previously off limits to them when tigers were present.”

The Indochinese leopard’s main prey in the study area was banteng, a rare species of wild cattle. Camera trap image courtesy of Panthera/WildCRU/WWF Cambodia/FA.

But only the male leopards seem to be consuming banteng, the team found. The female leopards preferred muntjac (genus Muntiacus), a small deer. This difference is likely because male leopards can grow up to 50 percent larger than females, the researchers say, suggesting thatthe banteng might be “too large and dangerous” for female leopards to prey upon, but not for the larger male leopards.

Despite the availability of prey of all sizes, Cambodia’s leopards are on the verge of extinction. And is to blame, the researchers say.

“Our conclusion was based on evidence we collected during the study: The presence of considerably higher numbers of snares in the core zone compared to previous years, and the documentation of several snared animals, including leopard, in the core zone in recent years,”Rostro-García said. “Other possible explanations, such as prey declines and differences in methods across years, were not likely given that prey densities remained stable across years, and we used the same camera-trap methodologies as in the previous study.”

pass by a camera trap. Camera trap image courtesy of Panthera/WildCRU/WWF Cambodia/FA.

In fact, a study published last year reported that Southeast Asia was in the middle of a “snaring crisis.” Between 2010 and 2015, patrol teams removed more than118,000 snares from just three protected areas in Cambodia, the researchers found.

Hunters use these snares to meet the rising demands for bushmeat in Southeast Asia. However, snares kill indiscriminately, not just smaller rodents and mammals, but also larger leopards and baby elephants.

“Many areas are covered with thousands of snares set to catch wild pig and deer to supply bushmeat markets,” Kamler said. “Leopards and other wildlife are often caught in these snares as bycatch, and the valuable parts sold to traders.”

To protect the last remaining Indochinese leopards in Cambodia,Panthera is focusing on increasing its monitoring efforts and expanding its survey areas. “We are also working with our collaborators, WWF Cambodia, WildCRU, and the Ministry of Environment, to help strengthen environmental laws in eastern Cambodia to develop strictly protected core zones and increase fines from poaching,” Kamler wrote in a blogpost.


  • Rostro-García, S.,et al. (2018) An adaptable but threatened big cat: density, diet and prey selection of the Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri) in eastern Cambodia. R. Soc. open sci. 2018 5 171187; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171187

This article by was first published on on 28 Feb 2018.


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2 thoughts to “Cambodia’s banteng-eating leopards edge closer to extinction, new study finds”

  1. An issue essential to conservation not mentioned, but visible in the photos, is motorized transportation into heavily vegetated areas. In tropical Cambodia, it is roading that facilitates significant “bushmeat” poaching.
    In cool temperate areas, the fragmentation of forests for the killing of trees, which are themselves living micro-ecosystems (not really dissimilar to ourselves; we contain about 10x as many cells of commensal and mutualist organisms on and in our bodies, as are those grown through our personal DNA-directed phenotype. We DO intercommunicate with our private flora and fauna, experiencing useful cognitive and behavioral changes, btw), occurs year-round, through the invasion of motor vehicles – snnowmobiles/snowmachines are even more able to penetrate and disrupt and exploit, due to snow covering understory blockage and complexity.

    Primates up to human-size (but not really as far as Gorilla) are natural prey of Leopards. Our being midway in trophic level is significant, because our fear response is increased toward predators with evolutionary history of using our kind as prey.
    This problem occurs worldwide; the larger European lion was extinguished (probably through the trophic downgrading effect of overlarge human populations – think of “bushmeat”and poaching), along with many predators preying only upon the unguarded young, such as the Eurasian wolf. In India, for example, the modern culture, dense population/habitat occupation have elicited insufficient offspring guarding to allow some taking by this and other species of human young, albeit on a miniscule scale.there, too, some of the most destructive social practices, that of vast group “hunts” using sheer numbers of humans to scour landscapes to expose and kill predators, arose. the domestication problem was also an attractant. In areas where humans were not so sedentary , the careful canids, originally occupying a somewhat mesopredator niche, responded cognitively and behaviorally to our downgrading of our own behavior, by turning natural opportunism – a characteristic of all living organisms, toward the newly burgeoning less-connected human culture.

    And since our species learned, like certain ants, to domesticate/enslave, other species, or perception of “ownership” became overextended, and we persecuted and feared economic/resource loss from any uncontrolled species.

    Here, where I live, mountain lions merely looking into windows resulted in concerted group efforts to kill the curious “offender.”
    As I traveled across the western uplands of North America, I long realized that humans , being tropical primates, have largely occupied, exploited, and attempt to eliminate any organism perceived as competitor or threat. We have occupied nearly ALL the winter habitat available to seasonally migrating large mammals native to the continent, excluding those evolved as natural controls on the necessarily excess reproduction of other species.
    Think of how any species with low reproductive rate are highly vulnerable to extinction. All species Do have natural response of increased r-selection, earlier and more profuse reproduction, n the face of catastrophic stress. We humans break beyond that , in seeking to eradicate, exclude, and limit others not seeming to serve ourselves.

    For all effort to conserve, the human mind is skewed toward elimination of competitors far beyond the norm in any other species. The addition of technologies like firrearms and unnatural dispersable toxins, have caused us to become a catastrophic biological event.
    Only withdrawal from continuing growth can remedy this catastrophe, ourselves.

  2. From three leopards per 100 square kilometer to one leopard per 100 square kilometer is an obvious sign of extinction. The indochinese leopard is one of its kind. Conservative measures should be put forward for the life continuity of this wildlife.

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