Catching a glimpse of just one critically endangered Armur leopard is enough to wow any nature lover, but spotting a dozen is rarity indeed. Film footage released today by WWF, obtained from camera traps in the remote forests of the Russian Far East, is offering a welcome indication that the imperiled leopards may be making a comeback. With fewer than 50 of the big cats thought to be in existence in the wild, the appearance of 12 individuals in the latest video survey has wildlife experts feeling a bit more optimistic about the leopards' future.
The recordings shot in two desolate regions of Russia, near the easternmost border with China, are being hailed as evidence that Armur leopard's numbers could be on the rise. For the last six years, the WWF and Russia's Institute of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources have been monitoring the cat's habitat with camera traps as a way of surveying the health of their population. This latest survey turned up some unexpectedly encouraging results.
"In the previous 5 years of camera-trapping, we were able to identify between 7 and 9 individual leopards in this monitoring plot every year. But this year, the survey was record-breaking: today 12 different leopards inhabit the territory," says WWF Russia's program coordinator Sergei Aramilev. "The results are pointing to a population increase of up to 50 per cent within the target group in Kedrovaya Pad and Leopardoviy, and I think we can attribute this to improvements in how our reserves are managed and the long-term efforts that have gone into leopard conservation."
With a population of just a few dozen, Armur leopards are considered to be among the most endangered species on the planet. Human activity has contributed to their arrival at the brink of extinction; the leopards' regal fur makes them a continual target for poachers, and forest-clearing fires have dwindled their habitat significantly. In recent decades, conservationists have worked to protect the cats by educating local villagers, tightening regulations against poaching, and closely monitoring their status in the wild.
According to the WWF, late last year Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov unveiled plans for a new national park aimed at preserving Armur leopards in the Far East, along with stronger support for conservation programs.
The footage may be a little blurry, and a bit too brief, but thanks to the efforts of those involved in protecting and preserving Amur leopards -- their future on this planet need not be.
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