Leopard traps in the Judean Desert reveal long-term impact of humans on top predator populations

Uri Davidovich, Ido Wachtel, Romi Halevi, Royi Zidon, Ignacio A. Lazagabaster, Valentina Rovelli, Meirav Meiri, Roi Porat, Micka Ullman, Yael Jacobi, Amiyaal Ilany, Nimrod Marom, Naomi Porat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impact of human-driven hunting on large carnivores has been an important factor in altering recent and sub-recent ecosystems. However, comprehending this vital interaction in ancient times is compromised by the scarcity of carnivore remains in archaeological records. To address this, we examined historical human carnivore hunting dynamics in the Judean Desert of the Southern Levant using archaeological leopard traps, a unique hunting device common throughout the Saharo-Arabian region which has never been subjected to comprehensive analytic research. In this research, we applied a multi-faceted approach involving OSL dating, distribution modeling, and ancient DNA techniques, that provide direct evidence to spatio-temporal trends in top predator hunting. Our investigation dates the oldest known traps and implies that human hunting has been directed towards the Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) population in the Judean Desert since the mid-Holocene. Leopard hunting, which was probably carried out mostly by nomadic herding communities, intensified during the late Holocene, resulting in a substantial decline in the leopard population. By the time conservation regulations were enforced in the region, the leopard population had already plummeted to unsustainable levels due to these historical hunting practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108667
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2024

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© 2024 Elsevier Ltd


  • Distribution modeling
  • Leopard hunting
  • Levant
  • OSL
  • aDNA


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