April 27, 2012 10:28 ET

Population of World's Most Endangered Leopard Grows in China

CHANGCHUN, CHINA--(Marketwire - April 27, 2012) - Northeast China's Jilin Province Department of Forestry says the endangered Amur leopard population has almost doubled in the province, and now numbers between 8 and 11 individuals according to findings from a new survey.

The results from the first-ever study to exclusively examine Amur leopards shows that traces of the rare big cats are now being found over a much larger area in and outside of northeast China's Hunchun and Wangqing Nature Reserves, covering about 4100km2, an area similar in size to French Polynesia.

"The Amur leopard is critically endangered, and this research into population monitoring, habitat restoration and population migration characteristics is urgent for the survival of the species," said the head of WWF-China's Northeast Programme Office, Dr Zhu Jiang.

The Amur leopard is incredibly rare in the wild, and the species is the most endangered feline in the world, surpassing even the Amur tiger in rarity. Less than 50 now live in north eastern China and the Russian Far East.

Survey brings clarity

Compared to data from a 1998-1999 survey on tigers - which also picked up traces of Amur leopards - the new study found evidence that the leopard's distribution area in China expanded further to the northwest of Jilin province and towards the Sino-Russian border in the east. This represents an area 3-4 times bigger than previous findings, and a leopard population that's 1.8 times larger.

"The results of this new survey show even more clearly that the Hunchun-Wangqing habitat is an important one for the Amur leopard, and that the nearby Changbai Mountain leopard population is essential to support the continued survival of the Russian Far East population group. The two areas are indispensable to the recovery of the global Amur leopard population, and are the greatest hope for expanding both the population and the habitat of the species," said Dr. Zhu Jiang.

First known survey on China's wild Amur leopard population

This is the first time China has conducted a survey that exclusively focuses on Amur leopard population numbers, habitat location and habitat size in Jilin Province. The next stage, says Jilin Forestry Department's Senior Engineer and Tiger-Leopard Programme Officer Jiang Jinsong, will cover a larger area, using infrared camera traps and DNA monitoring technology.

"Based on the results of this survey, the first trial areas will be the Hunchun and Wangqing reserves, where constant collection of information on individuals as well as monitoring of activity patterns among the general population will serve to build up a core of information on the settled Amur leopard and Siberian tiger populations," said Jiang Jinsong.

WWF's role

WWF will continue to work with the Jilin Forestry Department, Hunchun Nature Reserve and Wangqing Forestry Bureau to continue monitoring population trends, assess habitat quality and the restoration of prey species. WWF will also maintain its contributions to the development of monitoring technology and anti-poaching management to help restore the Amur leopard population in China.

Notes to Editors

The survey was a collaborative project carried out by the Jilin Province Department of Forestry, WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) between 9th February and 27th February in the Hunchun and Wangqing areas of Jilin. It used a 319.4 km2 sample area and employed similar methods to the 1998 - 1999 survey, with the addition of questionnaires and interviews as well as data from infrared monitoring.

About Amur leopards

The Amur leopard (Pathera pardus orientalis) is a species of leopard native to Northeast Asia, and is also known as the Far Eastern leopard.

The Amur leopard is incredibly rare in the wild, and the species is the most endangered feline in the world, surpassing even the Siberian tiger in rarity. In addition to the 8-11 individuals in China's Jilin province, 3 - 5 are thought to be living in neighbouring Heilongjiang province, according to 1999 figures. Some 30 Amur leopards living in the Russian Far East.

Since 2009, WWF has worked with the Wangqing Forestry Bureau and set up two demonstration sites for in-situ conservation of tigers and leopards. In September 2011, a wild Amur leopard was spotted by an automatic infrared camera set up by WWF at Wang Qing Nature Reserve, the first time ever such a photo taken for Amur leopard in China.

Watch the rare Amur leopard footage here: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjc0Nzk4NTk2.html.

About WWF

WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature thrive. www.wwf.ca.

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