The last 84 remaining Amur leopards still found in the wild are living in the temperate forests of the Russian Far East and China.
The critically endangered Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) numbers just 84 individuals still remaining in the wild. The conclusion comes from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which cites a recent study conducted by an international team of researchers from Russia, China, and the United States.
The scientists joined efforts to complete a thorough survey of the Amur leopards that still dwell in their natural habitat, now restricted to the temperate forests of the Russian Far East and China.
The last remaining Amur leopards still found in the wild are moving freely across the border between the two countries and occupy territories in the Russian southernmost province of Primorskii and the Chinese northeastern province of Jilin.
“This first rigorous estimate of the global population of the Amur leopard represents an excellent example of the value of international collaboration,” said study co-author Dale Miquelle, Tiger Program Coordinator for the WCS.
To count the solitary felines, the scientists compared and cross-referenced data from camera traps set up on both sides of the Sino-Russian border, reaching what they describe as “a much more precise estimate” than simply taking a tally of the Amur leopard populations found in each country.
Since the critically endangered leopards migrate from one side of the border to the other, the camera footage helped the team identify the animals by their distinctive spot patterns.
This allowed the researchers to see not only how many Amur leopards live in each of the two territories, but also how much of the leopard population frequently moves from one country to the other.
“Political borders and natural boundaries of wildlife populations seldom coincide, often to the detriment of conservation objectives,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the journal Conservation Letters.
“Transnational monitoring of endangered carnivores is rare but is necessary for accurate population monitoring and coordinated conservation policies,” the study authors pointed out.
The results showed that the Amur leopard — the rarest big cat in the world, and the most critically endangered of all leopards, according to World Wildlife Fund — has an estimated population of 84 individual cats.
This is the full extent of the animal’s entire global population, since no other members of this rare leopard subspecies have been recorded anywhere else.
— WCS Newsroom (@WCSNewsroom) July 13, 2018
However bleak, this result actually reflects a comeback of the rare Amur leopard, as a 2015 survey showed these big cats had a total population of 69 individuals, Live Science reported at the time.
Of the 69 Amur leopards living in the wild three years ago, 57 were found in Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park — which covers roughly 60 percent of the animal’s territory — and 12 more in China.
The situation in 2007 was even grimmer, with just 30 Amur leopards left in Russia.
The research also uncovered that the Amur leopards show different population dynamics depending on the territory. For instance, they seem to be migrating from the Russian forests, where their numbers are drawing close to the maximum that can be supported given the amount of resources and their territory range.
The leopards are slowly starting to recolonize their Chinese habitat, with about a third of the total population being photographed on both sides of the border.
“We knew that leopards moved across the border, but only by combining data were we able to understand how much movement there really is,” said Anya Vitkalova, one of the study’s two leading authors and a biologist at Land of the Leopard National Park.