AboutZoos, Since 2008


The Amur leop­ard steps back from the brink?

pub­lished 16 March 2013 | mod­i­fied 08 March 2014

amur leopard zooCould it be that one of the rarest cats on earth, the Amur leop­ard ( Pan­thera par­dus ssp. ori­en­talis ) which is con­sid­ered Crit­i­cally Endan­gered accord­ing the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species , is resilient enough to recover from its pop­u­la­tion decline?

Spe­cial­ists of Far East­ern Branch of Russ­ian Acad­emy of Sci­ences, “Land of the Leop­ard” National Park, WWF and Wildlife Man­age­ment Depart­ment of Pri­morsky Province have finalised the results of the Amur leop­ard cen­sus using snow tracks.

Amur leopard census2013The results exceeded all expec­ta­tions — 4850 indi­vid­ual Amur leop­ards were detected, about 1.5 times more than 5 years ago.

The cen­sus pro­duced four happy sen­sa­tions and one alarm­ing development.

The first sen­sa­tion
Accord­ing to the cen­sus results, a min­i­mum num­ber of 4345 adult indi­vid­ual leop­ards and 45 cubs were were deter­mined. In 2007, 2734 leop­ards were recorded. Thus, though the slo­gan “Only 30 left in the wild!” was a fact until quite recently, today we can say with con­fi­dence that not less than 50 Amur leop­ards inhabit the ter­ri­tory of the Russ­ian Far East. While WWF Rus­sia is rejoiced by this fact, they say it is no rea­son to let down their guard. 50 is still a crit­i­cally small num­ber for long term per­sis­tence of a population.
The sec­ond sen­sa­tion
The leop­ard has moved towards north. For many years the Krounovka River was the north­ern bor­der of the leopard’s range. Three years ago a lonely male left his tracks on the ter­ri­tory of Poltavsky Provin­cial Wildlife Refuge to the north of that river. This win­ter a female with a cub was found there. The appear­ance of this cat fam­ily in this new north­ern­most region is the leop­ards’ response to the suc­cess­ful organ­i­sa­tion of proper con­trol over the Poltavsky Refuge by the Direc­torate of Pro­tected Areas of Pri­morsky Province. Under the Directorate’s man­age­ment the Reserve became part of the net­work of pro­tected areas called “Land of the Leopard”.
The third sen­sa­tion
The leop­ard has moved towards the sea­coast as well. One of the lit­ters was found by spe­cial­ists in an area where leop­ards never used to appear: in the reeds and shrubs of a river delta. This win­ter there was a high con­cen­tra­tion of hare in these habi­tats, and due to the deep snow roe deer moved there as well. Poach­ers did not realise that wild ani­mals were con­cen­trat­ing there, and so a mother and a cub spent a calm and safe win­ter by the sea side with plenty of food.
The fourth sen­sa­tion
The leop­ard has moved to the south. One of the leop­ards was found on the bor­der with North Korea. No cases like this were recorded since the last cen­tury. It is quite pos­si­ble that the ani­mal will cross the bor­der and tem­porar­ily inhab­its the forests of China and North Korea. This fact high­lights the impor­tance of leop­ard habi­tat con­ser­va­tion in North Korea.

The Amur leop­ard, the rarest cat on the Earth, is step­ping back from the brink. We started the recov­ery pro­gramme in 2001 and can now be proud of almost 50 leop­ards in the wild. The most cru­cial role is played by the estab­lish­ment of large uni­fied pro­tected area with huge state sup­port, which cov­ers 360,000 hectares of leop­ard habi­tats in Rus­sia. It is nec­es­sary now to accel­er­ate the cre­ation of a Sino-​Russian trans­bound­ary reserve that would unify six adja­cent pro­tected areas encom­pass­ing 6,000 square kilo­me­ters and enable the sus­tain­ing of a future pop­u­la­tion of 70100 Far East­ern leop­ards and 2530 Amur tigers
(Dr. Yury Dar­man, Direc­tor of Amur branch WWF Russia)

The alarm­ing news
The win­ter cen­sus revealed 23 Amur tigers liv­ing in the ter­ri­tory, about dou­ble the num­ber com­pared to 5 years ago. This is an inde­pen­dent group from the Chang­bais­han pop­u­la­tion, which is dis­tinct from the main Russ­ian Sikhote-​Alin pop­u­la­tion and plays a key role in Amur tiger restora­tion in China. It is believed that dif­fer­ent habi­tat pref­er­ences allow these two com­pet­ing preda­tors — tiger and leop­ard — to coex­ist. How­ever, due to replace­ment of red deer by sika deer and low wild boar pop­u­la­tions, the prey base of tigers and leop­ards in south­west Pri­morye has begun to more and more over­lap. In such con­di­tions, it is pos­si­ble it will lead to increased and strong com­pe­ti­tion between the two rare big cats. As a mat­ter of fact, over the past years at least three leop­ards were killed by tigers. Unfor­tu­nately, the results of the win­ter cen­sus added to the sta­tis­tics. Track­ing in 2013 revealed two cases when a tiger inten­tion­ally chased a leop­ard. Only advanced tree-​climbing skill saved the spot­ted cat from the striped one. Thus, seri­ous atten­tion of the researchers should be focused on the prob­lem­atic influ­ence of the Amur tiger on the Amur leop­ard population.

The Amur leop­ard 2013 cen­sus was con­ducted fol­low­ing a tra­di­tional method­ol­ogy based on mea­sur­ing foot­print size. By record­ing the loca­tion of all tracks by GPS-​navigators and tak­ing pho­tos of the encoun­tered foot­prints it was pos­si­ble to min­imise the human fac­tor and sub­jec­tive assess­ment. Cli­matic con­di­tions were not easy. Deep snow and snow drifts obstructed the work and made it extremely dif­fi­cult to move along the tran­sects. But the same deep snow and frozen snow crust forced ani­mals to con­cen­trate on local spots and not move exten­sively, thus decreas­ing the prob­a­bil­ity of count­ing one and the same ani­mal on dif­fer­ent routes. Hav­ing fresh snow on the crust allowed for quite pre­cise mea­sure­ment of all encoun­tered foot­prints.

Locat­ing lit­ters is a not easy task, par­tic­u­larly under severe win­ter con­di­tions. Nev­er­the­less, field work­ers reg­is­tered 4 females with one cub each, and one lit­ter that had already left its mother. This fig­ure is con­sid­ered nor­mal for the given num­ber of leop­ards, though in 2011 no less than 6 lit­ters were counted. The infor­ma­tion col­lected before the cen­sus in the fall and win­ter allows for the assump­tion that the real num­ber of lit­ters in 2013 is higher then that observed on the tran­sects.

A rel­a­tively large quan­tity of leop­ard foot­prints were found along the bor­der with China, but unfor­tu­nately it was not pos­si­ble to con­duct a simul­ta­ne­ous cen­sus in China. Last year, a min­i­mum of 5 dif­fer­ent leop­ards were pho­tographed by cam­era traps there. Chi­nese spe­cial­ists sug­gest that 811 cats inhabit the Hunchun, Wangqing, and Suiyang Nature Reserves, mostly in the vicin­ity of reg­is­tered leop­ards in Russ­ian bor­der zone.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at WWF Rus­sia. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: WWF Rus­sia News, 15.03.2013)

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