The extinction of the Zanzibar Leopard (some people call it the ‘cat of Zanzibar’) is highly debated, since there is no concrete evidence of its complete disappearance, while on the contrary, there are several reports of its sightings as well.
These predatory leopards of Zanzibar lived/lives in the dense forests of Tanzania’s Zanzibar, and the entire population was eventually exterminated by the local people. Subsequent efforts have been undertaken by many researchers equipped with audio playbacks, camera traps, and searches for any possible signs in the wild. However, all efforts failed to yield physical evidence of these beasts.
|Subspecies||P. p. pardus|
|Location/Distribution & Habitat||Unguja Island in the Zanzibar archipelago, Tanzania|
|Birth Type (Reproduction)||Viviparous|
History & Causes of Probable Extinction
In 1932, British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock described The Zanzibar leopard as a leopard subspecies, proposing its scientific name as Panthera pardus adersi. Much later, in 1996, it was subsumed as P. p. pardus.
The early evolution of the Zanzibar leopard was contemporary to the evolutionary history of the recently-discovered Zanzibar servaline genet, as well as the Zanzibar red colobus monkey, both of which are endemic species of Zanzibar. It was not only the apex predator of the island, but also the largest terrestrial carnivore.
In 2008, the animal was considered to have gone extinct because of persecution by rustic leopard hunters of the island, backed by superstition that the Zanzibar leopard was evil. As per traditional local belief, the witches keep leopards as pets to employ for evil bidding, injuring and harassing common people, and preying upon their livestock.
It was this faith that instigated the inhabitants of the island to indulge in a leopard cull, back in the 1960s. Not only that, the act was officially sanctioned by the then Revolutionary Government, and the entire programme was headed by the ‘witch-finder’ Mzee Kitzani.
Incidentally, the entire population of these leopards were almost exterminated them. However, later, efforts were undertaken to develop a conservation program for the leopard in the 1990s after wildlife researchers inferred that there is almost no hope for the population of these big cats to last for long.
In September 2018, however, a camera trap footage posted by the ‘Animal Planet’, and shot by a team of researchers, almost clearly showed a similar-looking leopard roaming in the forest. This incident rekindled hopes for the chances of survival of the Zanzibar leopard. Though, the information that was found from this evidence was very little.
Check out the breath-taking Animal Planet video:
The felid was shorter in posture than the common leopard species. By evolution, this height was typical of the species since its prey were also shorter and smaller.
The cat had a large head, with a pronounced skull and strong jaws, with a pair of large canines in each jaw. It had a long tail and a versatile body.
The entire body was much more densely spotted, compared other several other leopard species. The Zanzibar leopards moved lower to the ground level than a more confident or larger leopard species.
While the last sighting of a live Zanzibar leopard occurred in the early 1980s, there is not much or enough evidence regarding the behaviour or ecology of the creature, nor had it been ever studied in the wild. Hence, there is no record about this species’ nature.
Though there is no specific information about its diet, the Zanzibar leopard was a carnivore and would prey upon the wild animals of the forests of Zanzibar.
- Only six skins of this species have been located in different museums, which includes the type specimen in London’s Natural History Museum, as well as, a mounted specimen in the Zanzibar Museum, which has faded out dramatically.
- Since the possible capture of the leopard on the hidden camera, further investigations have been planned with a view to confirm whether or not the animal caught in the video is a Zanzibar leopard, and whether a small population still exists in the forest.
- The Zanzibar leopard is considered the smallest species of leopard.