In vitro and in vivo anti-leishmanial efficacy of copper salisylaldoxime (CuSAL), a transition metal complex, was evaluated and the underlying mechanism was studied. In vitro studies revealed that 30 μM of CuSAL causes 96% reduction in parasite burden in infected macrophages. CuSAL is least toxic in host cells. A dose of 5 mg/kg bodyweight per mice on alternate days (5 doses) gives ∼97% protection in both liver and spleen. Moreover, CuSAL potentially inhibits the catalytic activity of LdTOPILS and causes apoptosis of Leishmania parasites through induction of intracellular ROS generation and activation of caspase-like proteases. Interestingly, CuSAL does not inhibit the catalytic activity of human topoisomerase I. The present study illuminated that CuSAL, has potent anti-leishmanial activity, which selectively targets LdTOPILS; and is a safe for human. Therefore, this compound might be highly promising candidate to develop the rational approaches for chemotherapy of human leishmaniasis. © 2017 Elsevier Inc.