Rare Appearance for an Extremely Rare Cat

April 25, 2012

Camera traps set up by protected area staff in Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve snap the first-known camera trap photos of an Amur leopard in China.

The namesake cats of the Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve are rare enough—fewer than 20 wild Amur tigers are thought to exist in China. But even rarer are the reserve’s Amur leopards. Estimates of the total number of these critically endangered spotted cats have hovered around 30 since the mid-1970s.

But new evidence suggests that the leopards may be making a small step towards recovery. Hunchun Reserve staff have taken the first-known camera trap photos of an Amur leopard in China. The cats were spotted in the northern Jilin Province, where a recent survey estimated that 8–11 leopards remained.

Beginning last month, the Hunchun Reserve’s staff set up 16 camera traps in areas where tiger or leopard tracks were found during winter surveys. A dozen of the camera traps were donated by WCS, which has been active for over a decade supporting Russian-Chinese transboundary conservation of Amur tigers and leopards. The remote cameras also snapped several images of tigers roaming the woods.

Most of the remaining Amur leopards live across the border in Russia, where a collaborative research team from WCS, WWF, the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology and Soils, and the Institute for Sustainable Use of Natural Resources photographed a total of 29 leopards last winter in a portion of the newly created Land of the Leopard National Park. These combined Russian and Chinese results suggest that leopard numbers may be rising to 40 or more.

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