Along the Iraq-Iran border, as many as 20 million landmines remain unexploded, still-lethal reminders of conflict stretching back to the first Gulf war. For the endangered Persian leopard, however, the old minefields are an unusual refuge. Although the explosives are a deterrent to hunters and poachers, here the leopard survives. The big cats, as National Geographic notes, can spread their weight across four paws, treading lightly among the anti-tank explosives that require about 180 pounds of pressure to set off.
That the Persian leopard has endured thanks to lethal ordnance is a testament to the cats' dire straits. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's best, though crude, estimate puts the leopard at fewer than 1,300 adults worldwide. Threats come in the form of hunters who the sell leopard pelts, once used as flags of royalty. And fracturing habitat puts the leopards in conflict with farmers, who kill the animals in real or imagined defense of their livestock.
Among the minefields, the only threats to leopards from humans are what lies buried on the ground, hauntings of a war two decades past. Although leopards won't trigger anti-tank mines, more-sensitive tripwire mines have claimed two cats.