Russia, China To Set Up Cross-Border Reserve To Protect Endangered Amur Leopards
April 8, 2013

Russia, China To Set Up Cross-Border Reserve To Protect Endangered Amur Leopards

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The Amur leopard, one of the rarest big cats still in existence, will have a cross-border reserve set up in its favor, in order to protect the few remaining animals still in existence. Russia, which has been in talks with China since at least 2009, set up its own leopard habitat in early 2012 to try and bring the animal back from the brink of extinction.

This year, the two Asian countries will set up a habitat that will span the border of Russia and China and expand on the Land of the Leopard National Park in Primorsky Territory of Russia, according to a statement by the Jilin Province Forestry Department on Saturday.

"If everything goes smoothly, we suggest signing an agreement with the park in June," said Jiang Jinsong, a provincial forestry department official.

"We hope to promote the cooperation as soon as possible," added Alyona Salmanova, head of the science department at Land of the Leopard National Park.

The Amur leopard, a subspecies of the Panthera genus, is one of the world´s most endangered species with a known population of less than 50 cats, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) — formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund. The cat lives along the border of China, Russia and the Korean Peninsula.

The Amur leopard stands apart from other leopards in that it has longer fur that likely protects it from the harsh, cold taiga of the Russian Far East. Their rosettes (spots) are also larger and more widely spaced than in other species. The fur of the Amur leopard lightens from a golden orange summer coat to a pale cream color during the winter. The cats range in weight from 65 to 155 pounds, with males being significantly larger than females.

Land of the Leopard National Park was set up in early 2012 at the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who himself has a soft spot for big cats. The park, which borders Hunchun in Jilin Province, is a main migration route for both the Amur leopard and the Amur tiger (Siberian tiger).

Russia has been looking for ways to protect not only its big cats, but also other big cats around the world. Putin hosted the world´s first conference in November 2010 to bring attention to the plight of the tiger. World leaders from 13 nations that had natural tiger habitats came together in St. Petersburg, Russia to discuss ways to preserve the endangered tiger, which had been heavily affected by poaching and habitat loss.

The current focus draws attention to a joint monitoring, information sharing and personnel exchange between Russia´s Primorsky Territory and China´s Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces in order to preserve the endangered Amur leopard.

Zhu Jiang, head of the WWF´s Northeast China office, said his agency will fully support a cross-border Amur leopard habitat.

"Our cooperation is expanding from the protection of Siberian tigers to Amur leopards, which means the cooperation is deepening," Jiang Guangshun, deputy head of the Feline Research Center of the State Forestry Administration, told China Daily´s Wu Yong.

“Amur leopards are literally teetering on the brink of extinction,” Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, head of WWF´s species program, said in a statement when the Land of the Leopard National Park was established in April 2012. “With the establishment of [the Amur leopard reserve], in conjunction with other conservation efforts, we can now start to focus on how to begin bringing them back.”

The WWF has supported the establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park since it was first mentioned back in 2001. The park, now celebrating its first anniversary, will continue to provide a safe habitat for endangered Amur leopards, as well as Amur tigers, which number around 500 in the wild.

The WWF told Ria Novosti in March that the population of the Amur Leopard has grown, with numbers increasing by 50 percent since 2007, a clear sign that the habitat system is working. The agency also said the big cat´s habitat had also expanded into North Korea.

A 2007 census placed the Amur leopard population at 27 to 34 cats. The latest census puts numbers closer to 50, with some conservationists believing that number could be higher. There is believed to be seven to 11 Amur leopards in China that were not part of the Russian census, possibly putting the total population at between 48 and 61 cats.