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201121Dec16:06

ZSL announces pos­si­bil­ity of re-​introduction of Amur leop­ards into the wild

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 21 Decem­ber 2011 | mod­i­fied 21 April 2012
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The crit­i­cally endan­gered Amur leop­ard is to be found only in the forests of south­west Pri­morsky Krai in the Russ­ian Far East nowa­days, with only about 3035 indi­vid­u­als left in the wild. There­fore, the Amur leop­ard is pro­tected and con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes are essen­tial to ensure the sur­vival of this big cat. The Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don coor­di­nates the Amur Leop­ard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) which runs a range of con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes to pro­tect these stun­ning ani­mals and top predators.

These con­ser­va­tion activ­i­ties focus on pro­tec­tion from ille­gal hunt­ing of leop­ards and their prey, aware­ness pro­grammes with local vil­lages, pop­u­la­tion mon­i­tor­ing using cam­er­a­traps, and decrease of for­est degredation/​destruction.

picture amur leopard

Although the pop­u­la­tion size of Amur leop­ards has been sta­ble for some time now, the num­ber of ani­mals is crit­i­cally small to ensure sur­vival. Their future is bleak, con­sid­er­ing that expan­sion of the only range is impos­si­ble, because it is sur­rounded by either sea or human set­tle­ments. Not to men­tion the effect of inbreed­ing due to the small pop­u­la­tion of leop­ards. There­fore, a rein­tro­duc­tion plan has been developed

by a coali­tion of sev­eral inter­na­tional non-​governmental agen­cies, includ­ing ZSL, and regional agen­cies of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion. This rein­tro­duc­tion scheme envis­ages to estab­lish a sec­ond pop­u­la­tion, from captive-​borne ani­mals, in for­mer leop­ard habi­tat north of Vladi­vos­tok and away from the cities. In addi­tion to vig­or­ous con­ser­va­tion activ­i­ties to pro­tect the exist­ing small pop­u­la­tion, this should secure the future of Amur leopards.

As rein­tro­duc­tion of large car­ni­vores using captive-​borne indi­vid­u­als is extremely dif­fi­cult, time con­sum­ing and expen­sive it is rarely done and has not led to suc­cess yet. It is always a bet­ter option to expand wild pop­u­la­tions, or to translo­cate wild ani­mals, if pos­si­ble. This option being out of the ques­tion for the Amur leop­ard, makes it the only big cat for which rein­tro­duc­tion using zoo stock is endorsed by the IUCN Cat Spe­cial­ist Group. ZSL will play a key role in this plan, as it co-​ordinates the European/​Russian zoo con­ser­va­tion breed­ing pro­gramme in part­ner­ship with Moscow Zoo.

The rein­tro­duc­tion plan, which has been approved by local and inter­na­tional experts dur­ing an Amur leop­ard and tiger con­fer­ence in Vladi­vos­tok in March 2010, is cur­rently being reviewed by the Russ­ian author­i­ties. When endorsed by the author­i­ties it is pos­si­ble that off­spring of Amur leop­ards in zoos will one day roam wild in the forests of the Russ­ian Far East.

(Source: ZSL web­site, 13.09.2011; TIGRIS web­site; ALTA web­site; Wildlife Vets Inter­na­tional website)

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