With fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, the Amur leopard is thought to be the world’s rarest wild cat, and the creation of a new protected area in Russia is an important step towards the conservation of this highly threatened species.
Situated in Primorsky Province in Russia’s Far East, the 262,000 hectare Land of the Leopard National Park covers 60% of all remaining Amur leopard habitat and encompasses all known breeding grounds for this species.
The establishment of the park marks the positive culmination of more than a decade of work by WWF.
“Amur leopards are literally teetering on the brink of extinction,” says Sybille Klenzendorf, head of WWF’s Species Program. “With the establishment of Land of the Leopard National Park, in conjunction with other conservation efforts, we can now start to focus on how to begin bringing them back.”
Land of the Leopard National Park
Amur leopards live in the temperate forests of Russia’s Far East, between Vladivostok and the Chinese border. At present, Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve and Leopardoviy Federal Wildlife Refuge are the only Amur leopard habitats in Russia, and the Land of the Leopard National Park will encompass parts of both of these areas, as well as some territory surrounding the two parks.
The establishment of Land of the Leopard National Park is certainly a positive step forwards, but care must be taken to ensure that preservation measures across the entire area are put into place to protect the health of the leopard habitat. Several military facilities are located within the Leopardoviy refuge, and poor forest management can aggravate the problem of forest fires in the area. Last month, almost 1,500 hectares of leopard habitat was destroyed as a result of a fire.
Following an investment of more than $16 million from the Russian government, the new park is set to include several ‘zones’. A 30,000 hectare zone will be strictly protected, and includes some of the most important leopard habitat areas on the Borisovskoe Plateau. A further 120,000 hectare area will be created along the Russia-China border, and will be subject to a special management routine with limited access by special permit only. An economic development zone will include all farmlands, lands around towns and military territories, while the remaining area will be deemed a recreational zone to be used for the development of eco-tourism.
The establishment of the new reserve will help to protect many other species besides the Amur leopard, including the Siberian tiger. Russia recently ended the logging of cedar trees in tiger habitat, resulting in an increase in cedar nuts, which in turn led to a boost in the wild boar population, a favourite prey of the stealthy big cat.
Recent surveys have revealed that ten of the world’s 450 Siberian tigers are present within the Land of the Leopard National Park, and will therefore be afforded additional protection.
Approximately ten Amur leopards are known to be present in China, which has two wildlife reserves on its side of the border. As a next step, WWF has announced that it hopes to establish a cross-border reserve territory to expand the available leopard habitat and allow the animals to move freely between countries.
Read more on this story at WWF Russia – Land of the Leopard National Park is established.
Learn more about the Amur leopard on ARKive.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author