A new study estimates that the number of Amur leopards surviving in the wild is somewhat larger than previously believed, with 84 leopards scattered along the border of China, Russia, and North Korea. The species has been listed as critically endangered since 1996, but cross-border conservation efforts in recent years have worked to slow the loss of the species by establishing several leopard- and tiger-specific national reserves and increasing monitoring.
The new population estimate was conducted by scientists from China, Russia, and the United States and published in the journal Conservation Letters. Previous estimates focused on leopard populations in individual countries, but the animals tend to roam freely across national borders, making such counts unreliable. In addition, biologists used to rely largely on tracks left in the snow to determine population size, but in recent years have set dozens of wildlife camera traps to track both Siberian tigers and Amur leopards, leading to more accurate estimates. One previous estimate by Russian scientists, for example, put the global population at just 25 to 50 individuals.
“We knew that leopards moved across the border, but only by combining data were we able to understand how much movement there really is,” Anya Vitkalova, a biologist at Land of the Leopard National Park in Russia and one of the two lead authors of the publication, said in a statement.
Last year, China announced it was creating a 5,790-square-mile national park — 60 percent larger than the United States’ Yellowstone National Park — focused on protecting the endangered Siberian tiger and Amur leopard populations. For more on the new park and the state of Amur leopards, click here.