A new census of Amur leopards suggests the world’s rarest big cats may not be as rare as once thought. The World Wildlife Fund Russia 2014 census conducted by camera traps counted at least 57 of the spotted cats. That number, while still minuscule, represents a significant jump from 2007 when only 30 of the wild cats were catalogued. And, that was before protected land was set aside as the Land of the Leopard National Park. By 2013, a year after human activity was banned in the region, 48 leopards were counted.
The camera traps were spread over a whopping 380,000 hectares. That represents most of the Amur leopard’s habitat and all of the animal’s breeding ground. Young cats are actively settling down in the park, officials say.
“About 10,000 shots were received which enable the scientists to identify almost 60 individual animals judging by the pattern of spots on the skin,” according to Alyona Salmanova, who is deputy head of the park.
“Now we can say that the numbers of the rarest cat on the planet has increased almost twice,” the WWF adds. “These data are being checked in the course of winter survey and on the basis of genetic analysis of collected biological samples.”
At least eight to 12 individuals were counted in adjacent areas in China, which means no less than 70 Amur leopards now live on the planet, the WWF says.
Sergey Ivanov, chairman of the supervisory board of the Amur Leopards Center, says the next step is the establishment of Sino-Russian transboundary nature reserve which coincides with the further development of relations between the Russia and China.
“If that plan ever becomes a reality,” writes John R. Platt in Scientific American. “Then the Amur leopard population may truly begin to recover.”
h/t Scientific American Photos WWF