Considering we have unfortunately become rather acclimatized to headlines and reports on how we are slowly destroying our beautiful planet, it is nice to hear that efforts to undo the damage we have done are starting to pay off. Last month, conservationists and wildlife lovers rejoiced over the news that tiger populations in India—that’s 70% of the world’s tigers—have increased by 30% in just four years. Now, it seems we may have another species to add to the big cat conservation success party, as Amur leopard numbers have more than doubled over the past seven years.
When you paint a picture of a leopard in your head, you may envisage a slender, solitary creature skulking through the savannah grasslands of Africa. But Amur leopards are different. This extremely rare subspecies has taken to a much colder, snowy life in the temperate forests of southeastern Russia and northeast China. Unfortunately, things hadn’t been looking so good for these fabled and elusive animals. Not only are they among the most critically endangered big cats in the world, but less than a decade ago there were less than 50 left in the world.
The main reason that the population of these predators has dwindled is because they have been poached almost to extinction, with their striking spotted fur being sold for significant sums of money. Furthermore, their prey species have been hunted by local villagers for both food and money.
Recognizing the need to protect these animals and other at-risk species before extinction became more than just a warning, a vast national park was established back in 2012 in Russia. Named the Land of the Leopard, this park included all of the subspecies’ known breeding spots and around 60% of its remaining habitat. And it seems this endeavor has paid off, as according to a new report by the WWF, there are at least 57 individuals currently roaming the park, compared to just 30 cats in 2007. Furthermore, an additional 8-12 were spotted in neighboring areas in China.
These numbers are the result of a recent census which involved setting up cameras over some 900,000 acres of their home. More than 10,000 images were analyzed by experts, which helped scientists distinguish individuals by the different patterns of spots on their fur.
“Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts,” Barney Long, director of species protection and Asian species conservation for the WWF, said in a news release. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to secure a safe future for the Amur leopard. But these numbers demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction.”
Alongside providing Amur leopards with some much needed protection, the Land of the Leopard is also a life support line to the endangered Siberian tiger which shares the same habitat. Although their numbers still appear to be declining, late last year they were spotted in northeastern China for the first time. Prior to this, the only evidence for their presence in this area was the odd footprint.
[Via WWF and Live Science]