Things are starting to look up for the rarest big cat on the planet: The critically endangered Amur leopard, which is indigenous to southeastern Russia and parts of northeastern China, has doubled in population since 2007, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Census data from Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park, which covers about 60 percent of the Amur leopard’s habitat, puts the number of these wild cats at 57. That’s up from the 30 leopards counted in the area in 2007, according to the WWF.
Eight to 12 additional cats were also counted in adjacent areas of China during the census, which means the total population of Amur leopards has, in fact, doubled in less than a decade.
“Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts,” Barney Long, director of species protection and Asian species conservation for WWF, said in a statement. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to secure a safe future for the Amur leopard, but these numbers demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction.”
To count these solitary cats, park rangers and experts from the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences placed camera traps throughout the more than 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) of land that make up the Amur leopard’s habitat. They collected about 10,000 photographs, which were used to identify approximately 60 individual leopards. Each animal was identified by the distinctive pattern of spots on its fur, WWF officials said.
The Land of the Leopard National Park, where the leopards were counted, was established in 2012 along the border of northeastern China and the Russian Far East, in a region known as the Amur-Heilong River Basin. Its founding was part of an ongoing effort to conserve Amur leopards and other at-risk species, including the Siberian tiger.