The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica syn. Panthera pardus saxicolor), also called the Caucasian leopard, is the largest leopard subspecies, and is native to northern Iran, eastern Turkey, the Caucasus mountains, southern Turkmenistan, and parts of western Afghanistan. It is endangered throughout its range with fewer than 871–1,290 mature individuals and a declining population trend. Leopards possibly also occur in northern Iraq.
A phylogenetic analysis suggests that the Persian leopard matrilineally belongs to a monophyletic group that diverged from a group of Asian leopards in the second half of the Pleistocene.
The Persian leopard is large, weighing up to 90 kg (200 lb), and light in color. They vary in colouration; both pale and dark individuals are found in Iran. The medium length of the body is 158 cm (62 in), of the tail 94 cm (37 in), and of the skull 192 mm (7.6 in).
Biometric data collected from 25 female and male individuals in various provinces of Iran indicates average body length of 259 cm (102 in). A young male from northern Iran weighed 64 kg (141 lb)
Distribution and habitat
Portrait by A. N. Komarov
Leopards were most likely distributed once over the whole Caucasus, except for steppe areas. Surveys conducted between 2001 and 2005 confirmed that there are no more leopards in the western part of the Greater Caucasus, and that they survived only at a few sites in the eastern part. The largest populations survive in Iran. The political and social changes in the former Soviet Union in 1992 caused a severe economic crisis and a weakening of formerly effective protection systems. Ranges of all wildlife were severely fragmented. The former leopard range declined enormously as leopards were persecuted and wild ungulates hunted. Inadequate baseline data and lack of monitoring programmes make it difficult to evaluate declines of mammalian prey species.