AboutZoos, Since 2008


New footage reveals fam­ily life of elu­sive Amur leopard

pub­lished 01 Feb­ru­ary 2014 | mod­i­fied 25 Decem­ber 2014

Video footage released 30 Jan­u­ary of one of the most endan­gered species on the planet, the Amur leop­ard, pro­vides vital infor­ma­tion to help con­ser­va­tion efforts.

amur leopard in a zooCam­era trap footage from east­ern Rus­sia filmed in Novem­ber and Decem­ber of 2013 and made avail­able this month, reveals how the highly endan­gered Amur leop­ard raises kit­tens in the wild as well as giv­ing an insight into fam­ily behaviour.

In Novem­ber 2013, Land of the Leop­ard National Park and WWF started a joint project, “Leopard’s Real­ity Show”, installing 10 hid­den cam­era traps near the remains of a sika deer. The 78 hours of unique video mate­r­ial shows how the female Amur leop­ard, named Kedrovka, feeds her kit­tens with the sika deer, trains them, and resolves their dis­putes. She has three kit­tens, a rare occur­rence for leop­ards. We see how kit­tens play and fight for meat, dis­cover the world by study­ing birds, weasels, and mice, and expe­ri­ence first fears and pain.

“In the video we can see how the mother urges the weak­est kit­ten to eat after the other two have aban­doned the prey. But it is not as fussy as most human moth­ers, when the weak­est kit­ten starts to limp on one paw and whines about it, the mother just ignores it”, said Vasily Solkin from WWF-​Russia Amur branch, who com­piled the footage. The WWF-​Russia web­site pro­vides the 8 sep­a­rate episodes which were used to com­pile the YouTube video below.

Pre­vi­ously sci­en­tists believed that sim­i­lar to a lion pride, leop­ards from one “fam­ily” ate prey together. How­ever this footage shows that leop­ard kit­tens approach the deer in turns, with the strongest eat­ing first and the weak­est last. This means that any leop­ard “meal” takes a long time, and the last kit­ten always has the small­est chance of being fed because a strange noise or other threat may force the leop­ards to move on and leave the kill.

This fact explains why female leop­ards some­times choose to give atten­tion only to two kit­tens, even if they give birth to three. Very often, the third or even the sec­ond kit­ten does not sur­vive in the long term.

All infor­ma­tion gath­ered about leop­ard upbring­ing is cru­cial for WWF con­ser­va­tion efforts. With few leop­ards left, they may be genet­i­cally too close and inbreed­ing may weaken their chances of sur­vival. There are plans in the sci­ence com­mu­nity to intro­duce new leop­ards into the wild by breed­ing leop­ards from zoos but to ensure that the pro­gram is suc­cess­ful, it is impor­tant to know how leop­ards are raised and taught hunt­ing skills in the wild.

Amur leop­ard infor­ma­tion
Amur leop­ards live in the north­ern­most part of the species range in far-​eastern Rus­sia. A Cen­sus in 2013 showed that there are 48 to 50 Amur leop­ards remain­ing in the wild, about 80 per cent of the species’ for­mer range dis­ap­peared between 1970 and 1983.

Habi­tat destruc­tion by unsus­tain­able log­ging, for­est fires and land con­ver­sion for farm­ing infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment are the main causes, while the species has also been hit hard by ungu­late poach­ing. Ungu­lates are large, hoofed mam­mals and the main prey for Amur leop­ards.

Num­bers are increas­ing from a few years ago when just 30 remained and WWF plans to keep this upward trend with exten­sive con­ser­va­tion mea­sures. Every leop­ard has a unique pat­tern of spots, so experts can recog­nise almost every one of the remain­ing leop­ard by photo or video images.

(Source: WWF Global news, 30.01.2014)

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