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Are leopards native to the Middle East?

Yes, and they're still there.


This question was inspired by an email about the Sinai leopard. Leopards are native to the Middle East and, as of 2001, they are still living there. I found a somewhat confusing reference about the Sinai leopard being extinct. See the following reply from Peter Jackson of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group:

"Your first reference about extinction is in an article by Professor Mendelssohn, which appeared in Cat News about Israel's cats. It is not very clear, but he was presumably referring to just the Sinai leopard in Israel. Egyptian biologists say there are still some leopards in the Sinai. Mendelssohn describes the small Negev and Judaean leopard populations as nimr. I haven't heard anything about them for long. They were persecuted by local people and inbreeding was recorded, and so extinction just seemed pretty close. Subspecies jarvisi (Sinai leopard), nimr (Arabian leopard), and tulliana (Anatolian leopard) were lumped, along with with dathei (Central Persian leopard) and sindica (Balochistan leopard) under saxicolor, the North Persian leopard, by Steve O'Brien's team on genetic grounds. Arabian leopard specialists are fighting for nimr's uniqueness. They even suggest that leopards in northern Oman and formerly along the Persian Gulf coastal area were of Asian origin, and are different from those of Southern Oman, Yemen and the Red Seacoast of Saudi Arabia of suggested African origin. Really everything is in the air because it is becoming increasingly clear that genetics alone are not necessarily definitive."

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