20 April 2012

Land of the Leopard: Russia provides hope for Amur leopards & Siberian tigers

The Amur leopard is a subspecies of leopard that is resident to the south-western Primorye region of Russia and has been classified as 'Critically Endangered' by the IUCN since 1996. It is estimated that as few as 30 individuals may remain in the wild, occupying a tiny area of land. Therefore, the Russian government has just announced that they are creating a 1, 011 square mile big cat reserve called the 'Land of the Leopard National Park' in order to try and save the cat.

The 'Critically Endangered' Amur leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis, which the Land of the Leopard National Park hopes to conserve.

The reserve, declared on the 9th April 2012, aims to safeguard Amur leopards, along with Amur (Siberian) tigers, by protecting them from illegal poaching and hunting by farmers. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which has supported the Russian government in conserving big cats since 1996, has heralded the new reserve saying that: 

"it will provide a critical refuge for some of the most endangered big cats on the planet" (Dale Miquelle, Russian programme director). 

The Land of the Leopard National Park combines three already protected areas: Kedrovaya Pad Reserve, Barsovy Federal Wildlife Refuge and Borisovkoe Plateau Regional Wildlife Refuge (partly to make them easier to manage), with a large expanse of previously unprotected land along the Chinese boarder. Migration between wild leopards and tigers between the reserve into China and vice versa is essential for the conservation of the species since it allows genes to 'flow' between the remaining populations, helping to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding (inbreeding depression) that often occurs in small, protected populations.

Although some conservationists are sceptical that the reserve will help to save the leopard, saying that is too little, too late (to use a cliché), they agree that it is a huge step in the right direction and will definitely be of help in the recovery efforts of Siberian tigers. However, there is still hope for the recovery of the Amur leopard, as many species have recovered successfully from such a dwindling population sizes in the past and the Land of the Leopard may be enough to save the cat, particularly if poaching can be successfully prevented.

The Amur (or Siberian) tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, which is classified as endangered by the IUCN. Numbers of Amur tiger have increased dramatically since its protection in the 1930's and there are now an estimated 500 of the tigers remaining in the wild.

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