New population census of the Far Eastern Leopard
According to the methods of monitoring this species the census should be done every three years. This year in Primorye and China eight monitoring groups would start their routes and should within two weeks search the area of 5,000 sq. kilometers.
”Now we know very well that the last habitat of the Far Eastern leopards, these unique predators listed as disappearing in the IUCN Red Data Book, is the south-western part of Primorsky Province of Russia – Khasansky, Nadezhdinsky, and Ussuriisky districts. The last census of leopards was done in 2003 and its results confirmed the extremely low abundance: only 28-30 animals remaining,”- says the coordinator of the Far Eastern Leopard Census 2007, head of the laboratory of animal ecology and conservation of the Pacific Institute of Geography FEB RAS, Doctor of Science Dmitry Pikunov. - The area and quality of habitat change quickly and unfortunately for worse. We need regular census in order to better understand the situation, determine how many animals left, how they are distributed, presence of the young, and develop a new conservation strategy.”
The census would be conducted using traditional methods – registration of predators’ snow tracks and measuring them, which allows determining age and gender. The total length of all tracking routes is over 2000 km. The obtained data would be supported by the information from the photo-trapping census, which would be done in March-April this year. And collected samples of feces would be sent to Japan for genetic analysis for additional identification of animals.
Even right now we have some promising news.
“While preparing for the census the researchers found at least four litters of leopards and at least in two cases there were twins, - says Yury Darman, Director of the Far Eastern Branch of WWF-Russia, PhD, - First time in the last five years we are seeing so big increase in the leopard population. We hope this census would confirm that now there are not 30, but at least 40 leopards and that the threat of disappearance is a little farther away. We hope that together with our Chinese colleagues we could preserve a sustainable population of more than 50 animals.”
For providing better quality of census operation not only in Primorye but also in China, a special workshop for Chinese ecologists was conducted in the end of January by specialist of WCS and WWF. The participating in the census staff of the Hunchun Nature Reserve and members of the WCS Monitoring Team in China were taught methods of measuring and distinguishing tiger and leopard tracks.
“It is difficult to count tigers and leopards since they go frequently across the border of Russia and China. According to the data of recent years at least 15 tigers are now in Heilongjiang and Jilin Provinces, but the number of leopards is much smaller, - said Eve Li, the coordinator of the Amur tiger conservation project of WCS in China. - the main task is to use same methods of census of as in Russia, so that the data would be integrable and comparable.”
Pavel Fomenko, Biodiversity conservation Coordinator, WWF RFE
Elena Starostina, press-officer, WWF RFE
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