The Rarest Leopard

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.

A Far Eastern Leopard in captivity. He may live 5 years longer than his wild brothers

Photograph: © The Far Eastern Leopard Programme

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.

Range of the Far Eastern Leopard

Map: © Ed (with help from Google)

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.

A Cautious Pair of Leopards

Photograph: © The Far Eastern Leopard Programme

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.

A lone Eastern Leopard roams the forest

Photograph: © The Far Eastern Leopard Programme
Warning Signs

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.

Leopard cub ~ Keeping hope alive for the future of the Far Eastern Loeopard.

Photograph: © The Far Eastern Leopard Programme
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.

Original Article:

Please visit the above website for much more information and many more photos and video of this beautiful creature.

Snow Leopard

Cat of the Month ~ February 2014

With the heavy winter snows still affecting the United States, the cat of the month for February is the Snow Leopard. This beautiful cat was the mascot for the recent XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi and it was a fitting emblem for all the marvellous outdoor activities in Snow! Just like those athletes this feline surely is a master of its environment.

This special Leopard is currently found in ever dwindling numbers in Asia, Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Tibet and possibly also in Myanmar. To be more precise its geographic distribution runs from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through to the Russian Altai mountains an on to the west of Lake Baikal.

It is a sad and daunting estimatation that there are now only approximately 4,000 (yes four thousand!) snow leopards left in the wild, although this number is not a fixed certainty. We are stunned by this finding and can only hope that there are undiscovered snow leopards lurking in even more remote regions throught the world (lets live in hope). The recent footage from the Snow Leopard Trust shows a fine and rare photograph of one of these magnificent cats caught on film by an automatic research camera.

A wild Snow Leopard triggers an automatic camera.
Photograph: Snow Leopard Trust.

Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss.

Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it too also helps to minimize heat loss.

Snow leopards’ tails are long and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is very important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are also very thick due to storage of fat and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep. The snow leopard also has a short muzzle and domed forehead, containing unusually large nasal cavities that help the animal breathe the thin, cold air of their mountainous environment.

Both the WWF and the Snow Leopard Trust are working to protect this incredible cat. The Snow Leopard trust have been studying these felines for many years in Mongolia’s South Gobi. You can read about the cats Agnus, Arian (Pure), Ariumbeleg (Pure Spirit), Dagina (Beautiful Princess) and Dvekh (phoenix rising) on this meet the cats page.

In the future lets hope we see a lot more cubs like this sturdy soul…

snow leopard cub

A wild Snow Leopard Cub, prowls for food (no doubt)
Photograph: Snow Leopard Trust.

Article Sources: Snow Leopard Trust, Wikipedia

Leopard Rescued from Gujarat Well

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.

A young leopard peers towards a rescuers torch beam
Photograph: Biju Boro/AFP/Getty

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.

Leopard in the net. On his way to Freedom (oh sorry, the local zoo)
Photographs: Reuters

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.

The animal is sedated and taken to the nearby zoo. Poor Thing!
Photographs: Photo: Biju Boro/AFP/Getty

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.

African Leopard

Cat of the Month ~ May 2011

A female African Leopard up a tree

Wild female Leopard
Photograph: Patrick Meier

The story of how this particular female Leopard came to be up a tree is recounted by Patrick, the photographer:

“This photo was taken in a place called Xakanaxa, in the Moremi Game Reserve, Northern Botswana. We followed this female leopard for about 20 minutes. She went up and down some tall trees, getting closer and closer to a herd of impala. Eventually, when she started to stalk, she vanished from our sight in a single leap.”

The African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is a leopard subspecies occurring across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified leopards as Near Threatened in 2009, stating that they may soon qualify for the Vulnerable status due to habitat loss and fragmentation. They are becoming increasingly rare outside protected areas and the population is decreasing gradually. The most secretive and elusive of the large carnivores, Leopards are solitary creatures and predominately nocturnal.

Leopards are known for their ability in climbing (and said to be the strongest climber of the large cats). By climbing, the Leopard can use this vantage point to gain a better view of possible prey in an area. These cats have been observed dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there.
They are powerful runners, reaching speeds of up to 36 mph in the chase. They are also capable swimmers (although not as strong as some other big cats, such as the tiger). They are very agile, and can leap over 6 metres (20 ft) along the ground, and jump up to 3 metres (10 ft) vertically.

Leopards are versatile, opportunistic hunters, and have a very broad diet. They feed on a greater diversity of prey than other members of the Panthera species, and will eat anything from dung beetles to male giant elands, up to 900 kilos in weight. Their diet consists mostly of ungulates (hooved animals) and monkeys, but they also eat rodents, reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds, and fish. In Africa, mid-sized antelopes provide a majority of their prey, especially impala and Thomson’s gazelles.

They have been heard producing a number of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, meows, and “sawing” sounds. To hear some of these recorded sounds you may want to try this link.

Sources : Personal account by Patrick Meier, and other Big Cat websites.

Clouded Leopard

Cat of the Month ~ February 2011

Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopard in the Borneo forest.
Photograph: Alain Compost / WWF – Guardian website.

Until 2006, there was thought to be a single clouded leopard species (Neofelis nebulosa). However, recent genetic and morphological studies have led researchers to conclude that there are two completely separate species of clouded leopards. Researchers estimate that the two species diverged approximately 1.5 million years ago due to geographical isolation.

Officially recognised as new species of Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi or ‘the Sundaland clouded leopard’) in March 2007, these cats were discovered on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Sadly these cats are already on the endangered species list, with an estimated 18,000 of them remaining in the wild.

If you would like to find out more please visit the following websites
The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative
The Clouded Leopard Project Leopard Conservation & Research.

Snow Leopard

Cat of the month ~ August 2007


Snow Leopard at rest

The Snow Leopard Trust.

Founded in 1981, the Snow Leopard Trust is the largest and oldest organization working solely to protect the endangered snow leopard and its Central Asian habitat.

Conservation Philosophy

How do you save a snow leopard? Or a tiger, rhino, rare butterfly, or for that matter a patch of rainforest? These are the questions that every conservation organization faces, and that challenges all of us. Conservation actions can take many forms; setting aside lands, answering critical research questions, working to change government policies, partnering with communities, enforcing anti-poaching laws, or some mix of these and other efforts.

The Snow Leopard Trust use a combination of approaches that focus on partnering with communities in snow leopard habitat. They build community partnerships in addition to using science and research to determine key snow leopard habitat, assess wildlife-human conflict levels, and identify potential resources for conservation programs.
High priority areas are then chosen including key snow leopard habitat, with a history of conflict between predators and the communities, and potential resources to sustain a community-based conservation program.

When the science and research identifies an area as a priority site time is spent with local residents, listening to their hopes and concerns, and only then is a conservation program jointly developed.

Conservation efforts must meet four important goals.

1. The protection of snow leopards and their habitat, involving local communities in this effort.
2. An improved quality of life for the members of the community.
3. The program developed must have a path to becoming self-sufficient � where after a time it is no longer dependent on donor dollars.
4. The results of the program must be verifiable through monitoring programs.

The Snow Leopard Trust strives to follow these principles in all its community-based conservation efforts.
Visit the website via the link above and read about the different projects that are being implemented.

The Snow Leopard Trust constantly endeavor to improve our conservation projects to better meet the needs of cats and humans, and they are seeing wonderful results at their project sites. Here the livelihoods of families and communities have been improved greatly whilst snow leopards are being protected and their populations growing.

[Extract and Photograph from the Snow Leopard Trust Website]