Cat of the Month ~ January 2017
The Far Eastern leopard (Pantera pardus orientalis) is the rarest surviving subspecies of leopard. The only surviving Far Eastern leopard population is in the southern Far East of Russia. Today it numbers between just 30 and 50 animals.
It was only in 1972 that collected information on the rare Far Eastern wild cat was summarised in an official document by Vladimir Geptner and Arkady Sludsky. It noted that only three isolated groupings of Far Eastern leopards exist in the Far East: at Prikhankaisky, in southern Sikhote-Alin, and one in the Nadyozhdinsky and Khasansky Districts in the southwest of the Primorye Territory.
The Far Eastern leopard used to live at the Komarov Ussuri State Nature Reserve and was an unprotected species both in the reserve and in the surrounding areas. During the 1930s and 1940s all predators, including the leopard, were routinely destroyed, both at the Ussuri and other nature reserves. From 1956, hunting leopards was officially outlawed, but the economic development of the leopard’s natural habitat, especially deer parks, had a negative impact on the stability of the population. These factors, together with a sharp increase in poaching, led to a significant decline in the population and a sharp decrease in the geographical range inhabited by the leopard. It's notable that the Eastern Leopard also shares its habitat with the Siberian Tiger, which likely competes for available prey stocks.
Detailed studies of the current distribution, numbers, and structures of the populations, the social organisation, reproduction, food and other biological characteristics of the Far Eastern leopard were conducted in 1976 by Dmitry Pikunov and then subsequently in 1986 by Viktor Korkishko. The completion of these studies led to the publishing in 1992 of the document ‘The Far Eastern Leopard’, which presented the most comprehensive information to date on the Far Eastern leopard.
Between 1993 and 1998 a project was carried out in Russia which focused on studying the size and structure of the habitats of Far Eastern leopards using VHF transmitter collars.
Over the last 10 years the study of the Far Eastern leopard population has focused on determining the numbers of the subspecies using a variety of approaches, chief among them the traditional method of tracing their tracks and photo identification of the animals with the use of camera traps. A study to determine the status of the Far Eastern leopard using molecular genetic techniques has begun, and comprehensive veterinary studies have also been carried out.
Today there is only one population of the Far Eastern leopard, numbering somewhere between 40 and 52 animals. This rare species of wild cat has been included on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is in danger of extinction.
In recent years the leopards’ food supply has shrunk considerably due to forest fires and the development of the infrastructure of the Primorye Territory. As a result of the economic development of the forests and poaching, the leopard’s main food source, the roe deer, is slowly being destroyed.
Some Good News
If urgent measures are not taken to preserve these animals, the Far Eastern leopard population will die out. In connection with this, in 1999 the Strategy for the Preservation of the Far Eastern Leopard in Russia was adopted. This strategy proposes improving the network of leopard reserves (specially protected natural areas), optimising wildlife management in the leopard’s habitats, creating a viable population in captivity and reviving the dwindling population in the wild. The strategy also suggests that the numbers of leopards and the state of their habitats should be monitored, research studies conducted and measures to preserve the leopard promoted.
Please visit the above website for much more information and many more photos and video of this beautiful creature.
Forest wardens in India's Gujarat state have rescued a three-year old leopard which had fallen into an open well. The leopard is the second of its kind to be rescued in the area this week, highlighting the growing problem of creatures loosing their habitat and having to stray into populated areas for food.
The distressed leopard was finally winched to safety after many hours of incarceration and trauma. The animal was tranquilised using a dart after its struggles against a noose round its belly were thought to be harming the animal.
Eventually the three-year-old animal was lifted from the water and hauled onto a wooden frame by a team of eight wardens in the village of Aambaliya.
It is said that the Leopard is becoming India's Urban Fox as incidents such as this are growing in frequency as shrinking natural habitats forces more of these big cats to venture into human territory. They approach settlements where they are tempted to prey on domestic livestock including dogs, pigs and goats, and of course they will always be in need of a drink of water.
Leopards were once common across all of southern Asia but have been recently classified (since 2008) as 'near threatened' by International Union for Conservation of Nature. In May 2010, the Wildlife Protection Society of India estimated that at least 3,189 leopards were killed in the country since 1994.
Norman and I are pleased the animal was freed from his ordeal but feel that incarcerating him in the local zoo (and not setting him free) was a little uncalled for. However we have no knowledge of affairs in this region and so hope the leopard is given a large home in which to live.