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The leopard Panthera pardus, categorized globally as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, has the widest distribution of any wild felid species, although in Asia it has declined dramatically and five subspecies are Endangered or Critically Endangered. In China at least three subspecies have been reported to occur throughout much of the country, and in 1998 the population was estimated to be 1,000. However, recent studies have indicated that leopards have disappeared from large areas, probably as a result of habitat loss, a low prey base and poaching, indicating this species may not be as common in China as previously believed. To examine this we reviewed recent literature and interviewed specialists to determine the current status and distribution of the leopard in China. Our findings indicate that the species has declined dramatically, with confirmation of presence at only 44 sites in 11 provinces, despite extensive surveys. Current populations are small and fragmented, and occur mainly in isolated nature reserves. We estimate a total population of only 174–348 P. pardus japonensis (the north Chinese leopard), which is endemic to China, and < 30 individuals for each of the other subspecies whose distributions extend beyond China. We recommend that a separate IUCN assessment be made for P. pardus japonensis, and that this subspecies be categorized as Critically Endangered. Our findings are the first reliable estimates of the current distribution and status of the leopard in China, and provide valuable information that will help guide conservation efforts.
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