Census Results from April 2013 Show that the Amur leopard is Coming Back Strong
A team of specialists in the Far Eastern Branch for the Russian Academy of Sciences in the “Land of the Leopard” National Park in collaboration with WWF and the Wildlife Management Department of Primorsky Province; have finalised the results of their snow track leopard census conducted over the winter and have amazing results. The results have exceeded everyone’s best hopes and the census has been broken down into 4 positive results as well as 1 negative development. But given the state of the Amur leopards globally this is a massive result. With a total of 48-50 individual leopards detected this is an increase of 1.5 times compared with the census 5 years ago.
Royle Safaris has pioneered Siberian Tiger & Amur Leopard Tours and Siberian Tiger Holidays and whilst we accept seeing a wild one is still incredibly unlikely (although we do have better success with Siberian tigers in a new reserve and hope to increase our success rate to around 60-70% in the near future), these results mean that there may be a reasonable chance of seeing a wild Amur leopard here on our Amur Leopard Safari Holiday in the future.
Good News 1:
According to census results the minimum number of leopards is determined to be 43-45 adult individuals and 4-5 cubs. The last census in 2007 there were 27-34 leopards recorded. So we can no longer say “Only 30 left in the wild!” and instead start to say ‘No less than 50 Far Eastern leopards now live in the Russian Far East’. Although it must be stressed that whilst this is good news, 50 is still a critically small number for the long term survival of the population.
Good News 2:
The leopards have moved northwards. For many years the Krounovka River was the northern border of the leopard’s range. 3 years ago a lonely male left his tracks on the territory of Poltavsky Provincial Wildlife Refuge to the north of that river. However this winter a female with a cub was found there (forming the basis of a population). The appearance of the new northernmost cat family is the leopards’ response to the successful organization of proper control over the Poltavsky Refuge bylocal authorities. Under the new management the reserve became part of the network of protected areas known as “Land of the Leopard”.
Good News 3:
The population of leopards has also moved towards east the coast. One of the recent litters was found during the survey was in an area where leopards were previously unrecorded: in the reeds and shrubs of a river delta. This winter there was a high concentration of hare this habitat, and due to the unusually deep snow roe deer moved there as well. Poachers did not realize that wild animals were moving into the area, and so a mother and a cub spent a safe winter by the sea side with plenty of food.
Good News 4:
Amur leopards have also moved to the south as well. One of the leopards was found on the border with North Korea. No leopards have been observed in this area for a century. It is quite possible that the animal crossed the border and has found some suitable habitat in the forests of China and North Korea. This fact highlights the importance of leopard habitat conservation in North Korea.
But in a bizarre turn of events the recent success of increasing Amur Tigers numbers in the area is the one negative point (as far as Amur Leopards are concerned) that came out of the census. It is basically that the two cats compete and this winter census revealed 23 Amur tigers living in the territory, double the number compared to 5 years ago (great news of the tigers and not so good news for the leopards!). These tigers are not considered as part of the main Changbaishan population, which itself is distinct from the main Russian Sikhote-Alin population and plays a key role in Amur tiger restoration in China. It is believed that differing habitat preferences allow these two competing predators competitors – tiger and leopard – to coexist. However, due to replacement of red deer by sika deer and low wild boar populations, the prey base of tigers and leopards in southwest Primorye has begun to more and more overlap.
In these conditions, competition between the two rare cats may becomes a major issue. Over the past years at least 3 leopards were killed by tigers. Unfortunately, the results of the winter census added to these statistics. Tracking in 2013 revealed 2 cases where a tiger chased a leopard. Only the advanced tree-climbing skill of the leopards saved them from their fate. This has lead to more research needed on competition between tigers and leopards in Far Eastern Russia.
As well as counting and measuring the numerous tracks that were found in the snow, litters were also counted. When finding litters is a not easy task, particularly under severe winter conditions. Nevertheless, field workers registered 4 females with one kitten each, and one litter that has already broken away from its mother. This figure is considered normal for the given number of leopards, though in 2011 no less than 6 litters were counted. The information collected before the census in the fall and winter allows for the assumption that the real number of litters in 2013 is higher than that observed on the routes.
Another finding was the relatively large quantity of leopard prints were found along the border with China, but unfortunately it was not possible to conduct a simultaneous census in China. Last year, a minimum of 5 different leopards were photographed by camera traps there; Chinese specialists suggest that 8-11 cats inhabit the Hunchun, Wangqing, and Suiyang Nature Reserves, mostly in the vicinity of registered leopards in Russian border zone.
“The Far Eastern leopard, the rarest cat on the Earth, is stepping back from the brink” – comments Dr. Yury Darman, Director of Amur branch WWF Russia. “We started the recovery program in 2001 and now can be proud of having almost 50 leopards in the wild. The most crucial role is played by the establishment of large unified protected area with huge state support, which covers 360,000 hectares of leopard habitat in Russia. It is now necessary to accelerate the creation of a Sino-Russian trans-boundary reserve that would unify six adjacent protected areas encompassing 6,000 square kilometres and make the goal of a sustainable population of 70-100 Far Eastern leopards and 25-30 Amur tigers a realistic one”.
So if you would like to know any more information regarding our Siberian Tigers & Amur Leopard Watching Holidays and Far Eastern Russia Wildlife Watching then click on the above link or navigate to our Russian Wildlife Holiday page or just Contact Us and we will be happy to provide more information.