Good news from the Wildlife Conservation Society:
The world’s rarest big cat is alive and well. At least one of them, that is, according to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who captured and released a female Far Eastern leopard in Russia last week.
The capture was made in Primorsky Krai along the Russian-Chinese border by a team of scientists from WCS and the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology and Soils (IBS).
The team is evaluating the health and potential effects of inbreeding for this tiny population, which experts believe contains no more than 10-15 females. Other collaborators include: Wildlife Vets International, National Cancer Institute, and the Zoological Society of London. The Far Eastern leopard is perhaps the world’s most endangered big cat, with an estimated 25-40 individuals inhabiting a narrow strip of land in the far southeastern corner of the Russian Federation.
The leopardess, nicknamed “Alyona” by the researchers who captured her, was in good physical condition, weighing a healthy 85 pounds (39 kilograms). A preliminary health analysis revealed that she is he is believed to be between 8-10 years old. The animal has since been released unharmed.
One of the options scientists are considering is trans-locating leopards from other areas to increase genetic diversity—similar to what happened with Florida panthers when animals from Texas were brought in to supplement the remaining population. Today, Florida panthers have risen from less than ten individuals to a population of approximately 100.
Over the last 100 years, Far Eastern leopard numbers have been reduced by poaching combined with habitat loss. However, both camera-trapping and snow-tracking surveys indicate that the population has been stable for the last 30 years, but with a high rate of turnover of individuals. If inbreeding or disease can be kept in check, WCS and its partners believe there is great potential for increasing survival rates and habitat recovery in both Russia and Northeast China.
Photograph by Andrew Harrington