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The Population of a Rare Leopard Has Nearly Doubled

A new census shows that there are now at least 57 elusive Amur leopards in Russia

(Luca Barovier/National Geographic Creative/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Amur leopards—"arguably one of the most endangered species on the planet"— can leap as high as 20 feet and run up to 37 miles an hour. In 2007, there were only 30 known survivors in Russia. Now, a new census shows that Amur leopards could be tiptoeing back from the brink. Their numbers have nearly doubled in just eight years.

When Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park opened in 2012, it was greeted with enthusiasm by conservationists eager to preserve Russia’s dwindling population of rare cats, including both Amur leopards and Amur tigers. In a release, the World Wildlife Fund describes the 650,000-acre park as a “main organizational force for leopard protection and research.”

Spotting the reclusive Amur leopard proved tricky, as John R. Platt reports for Scientific American. “To conduct this census scientists used camera traps to collect an amazing 10,000 photographs,” he notes. “Each leopard has a unique pattern of spots, so the cats could be individually identified in the resulting photos.”

Those pictures yielded a final count of at least 57 Amur leopards, with an additional eight to 12 cats spotted in adjacent parts of China. And though those numbers aren’t exactly staggering, they represent real progress for a species that is imperiled by hunting and a decreasing habitat.

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