Monday, May 12, 2008

Rarest Big Cat Caught in Camera

Eight critically endangered Amur leopards (including the animal above) have been photographed by a camera trap in far southeastern Russia.

Fewer than 40 Amurs—also called Far Eastern leopards—still prowl the temperate forests of Russia's Far East and parts of China, making the Amur the world's rarest big cat.

Eight of the animals were captured on film in the Primorskiy region of Russia, which borders China and North Korea, during a recent census.

The research was conducted by the conservation group WWF and a local nonprofit, the Institute for Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.

"The confirmed stability of the leopard population … warm[s] our hearts and give[s] hope," Pavel Fomenko of WWF Russia said in a statement.

"But this is only a small part of the leopard's habitat in the southwest Primorskiy. The remaining 70 percent of the leopard's habitat [is] in precarious condition," Fomenko added.

Though the Russian government adopted a conservation strategy for the predator in 1998, poaching driven by an illegal trade in leopard parts is still a threat, according to WWF.

The conservation group has supported anti-poaching activities and tried to increase the population of hoofed prey species in the leopard's habitat.

"The goal of utmost importance is to create a unified federal protected area for the leopard," Fomenko said, "[and that] has not yet been achieved in Primorskiy."

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