Leopards are one of the most adaptable wild cat species, capable of living in multiple types of habitats. However, poaching, paired with habitat loss and fragmentation, has decreased leopard distribution to only 5-14 percent of its historical range in West Africa.
Halting Leopard Poaching
Leopards’ striking coats and the cultural values associated with them also make leopards the target of very well-organized wildlife crime and illegal trade. To put an end to leopard poaching, we are using forensics. And, our work doesn't stop there. We are conducting region-wide leopard surveys in West Africa to collect critical empirical field data that will inform a regional conservation strategy.
Using Camera Traps to 'Spot' Leopards
Until 2020, an assessment of the status and threats of leopard populations in West and Central Africa had not yet been performed. We are changing this by conducting intensive camera trap and market surveys in both regions to assess the status of the remaining populations and the threats they are facing.
Our work started in the W-Arly-Pendjari WAP Complex in Benin, where we have been conducting bi-annual camera trap surveys in Pendjari National Park since 2017 to assess the status of leopard and cheetah populations. We then conducted a successful camera trap survey in Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. In May 2022, we concluded a leopard survey in Ghana's Mole National Park, deploying 100 camera traps and visiting markets across the country. Next, we will be traveling to Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) to assess the status of leopard and African golden cat populations.
Training and Collaboration
As part of our approach, we also conduct training workshops to build local expertise — covering the design, implementation and analyses of camera trap surveys — for local wildlife authorities and key partners. With only nine known populations of leopards remaining in West Africa and the widespread demand for spotted cat skins in Central Africa, we must work collaboratively with other organizations on the ground.
This project is a big step toward informing population estimates, threats and conservation actions, marking a giant leap forward for leopards and other cat species in West and Central Africa.
"West Africa represents more than 20% of the African continent's land surface area, and yet, no program has been dedicated to wildcat conservation in the region. Since 2021, Panthera and its local partners are conducting wild cat surveys that will inform the status of various cat species and form the cornerstone for the development of a regional conservation strategy for leopard populations in West Africa."
Marine Drouilly, PhD
Regional Carnivore Monitoring Coordinator for West and Central Africa
- Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU)
- Direction des Parc Nationaux du Sénégal (DPN)
- Panthera Senegal
- Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
- Africa range-wide cheetah conservation initiative (CCI)
- African Parks Network (APN)
- Pendjari National Park
- W National Park
- The Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana
- Mole National Park
- Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Réserves (OIPR)
- Taï National Park
- Comoé National Park
- The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF)
- IUCN Cat SG-KORA
- Fauna & Flora International
- The EAGLE Network
Dr. Marine Drouilly
Philipp Henschel, Ph.D.
West and Central Africa Regional Director
Marine Drouilly, Ph.D.
Regional Carnivore Survey and Monitoring Coordinator
Director, Leopard Program