WWF has captured unexpected video footage of the Amur leopard, the world’s rarest cat, in the Russian Far East, showing that this Critically Endangered species may actually be increasing in number.
The recordings documented a total of 12 Amur leopards, which includes two different pairs and one new individual in the ‘Land of Leopard’ national park – a new large reserve created specially for the Amur leopard by merging the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve and Leopardoviy Federal Wildlife Refuge in Russia’s Primorsky Province.
To help understand how to better protect this rare animal, WWF Russia, along with the Institute of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and the Russian Academy of Science, has carried out regular surveys for the Amur leopard over the past 6 years. However, this is the first time they have used video-enabled cameras to monitor the leopards.
“In the previous 5 years of camera-trapping, we were able to identify between 7 and 9 individual leopards in this monitoring plot every year. But this year, the survey was record-breaking: today 12 different leopards inhabit the territory,” said Sergei Aramilev, Species Program Coordinator at WWF Russia’s Amur Branch.
“I think we can attribute this to improvements in how our reserves are managed and the long-term efforts that have gone into leopard conservation.”
One scene captures a pair of Amur leopards moving languidly through a small forest clearing, while a second shows a female leopard parenting a nearly grown-up cub.
Most endangered cat
There are fewer than 50 Amur leopards remaining in the wild. It now inhabits only a fraction of its original range, which once extended throughout China’s north-eastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, and into the Korean Peninsula. In Russia, about 80 per cent of this species’ former range disappeared between 1970 and 1983.
Unsustainable logging, forest fires and land conversion for farming are the main causes. The Amur leopard has also been hit hard by poaching, mostly for its unique spotted fur.
In December 2010, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that the government would take urgent measures to protect this Critically Endangered species, including the creation of the new ‘Land of Leopard’ National park. The Hunchun Nature Reserve in China, also an important habitat for Amur leopards, is expected to be added to this protected area at a later date, to form a trans-boundary sanctuary for the Amur leopard.
“Even the first steps towards establishing the “Land of Leopard” national park are having positive results. The fact that the number of Amur leopards has grown from 7 to 12 on the monitoring plot offers proof that creating one united trans-boundary protected area is the right idea,” says Yury Darman, director of WWF Russia’s Amur branch.
Alex Royan, ARKive Scientific Text Author