A research team comprising of researchers from the United States, China and Russia has estimated that only 84 highly endangered Amur leopards, scientifically known as Panthera pardus orientalis are left in the wild along the southernmost border of Primorskii Province in Russia and in the Jilin Province of China.
The study was published recently in the journal Conservation Letters. Scientists went all in and decided to collect information on the leopards by installing camera traps on both sides of the borders in both China and Russia to get an exact figure on how many of these leopards were actually left. There have been no official records of leopards and their former ranges- this new study reports the global population of the endangered subspecies in the wild.
Though these numbers do not scream good news, but previous studies done in Russia showed that the number of leopards left were even less- somewhere between 25 to 50. The surveys were however not very reliable as they were based on tracks left in the snow by the leopards. These tracks were often highly difficult to interpret because it gave no explanation as to how the number of tracks was related to number of leopards. Camera traps helped scientists identify each leopard by its special spot pattern which gave them much more precise information.
The team combined the data recorded in both the countries- which helped them achieve greater accuracy and made the estimate preciser. A very peculiar scientists noticed was that one-third of leopards were captured on camera on both sides of the Sino-Russian border.
Anya Vitkalova, one of the lead authors of the study and also a biologist at Land of the Leopard National Park in Russia said, “We knew that leopards moved across the border, but only by combining data were we able to understand how much movement there really is.”
Though movement was taking place in the both the regions, but the population dynamics in Russia and China appeared to be different. Since the Russian side is almost up to its capacity of the leopards and can only support a certain number of leopards, these wild creatures are going to the Chinese side.
Dale Miquelle, co-author and Coordinator of the Tiger Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society explained, “This first rigorous estimate of the global population of the Amur leopard represents an excellent example of the value of international collaboration. The trust and goodwill generated by this joint effort lays the foundation for future transboundary conservation actions.”