April 5th, 2013 by Jake Richardson
Amur leopards in eastern Russia increased to about 48-50 individuals according to a new survey. In 2007, in the same area there were just 27-34. These very rare cats live in a region near the Chinese, North Korean and Russian borders. Nearly half dwell in the Land of Leopard national park which is almost 700,000 acres.
Some might say that in 2007, the Amur leopards in eastern Russian and surrounding lands were on the brink of extinction, but even with the gradual increase to almost 50, there are still far too few. The danger in becoming overly excited about the increase is becoming fooled into believing they are all going to be fine going into the future.Complacency could ruin all the good conservation work that has taken place recently.
“But even 50 are very few. When there are 70–100, then one can say that the species is not endangered,” Sergei Aramilev of Wildlife Fund said. (Source: UPI)
This statement from someone directly involved with conserving these beautiful, wild cats and with sound knowledge of the situation is even suspect, because the increase is relative to near extinction – not to a healthy, sustainable population. The difference between 50 and 70 is unlikely to be enough to keep them alive for generations without health problems from inbreeding.
For example, Florida panthers were also nearly driven to the brink of extinction and a subspecies had to be imported from Texas to introduce genetic diversity for mating and reproduction, in order to grow the Florida population. Even now, the number of Florida panthers is only about 80-100, but habitat loss, human traffic, inbreeding, disease and climate change all remain threats.
The same is true of the Amur leopards (not human traffic as much) but climate change could alter their habitat enough they would not be able to find their normal sources of food. Their tiny population could suddenly be devastated by starvation and with weakened immune systems, also infection disease.
So the increase over the last five to six years is definitely great news, but these leopards are still not close to being at a truly sustainable level.
It must be pointed out, that in previous centuries before the human population exploded and much natural habitat was left in pristine condition, there were probably hundreds if not thousands of Amur leopards. So the proper measure of what a viable population is, would not be in relation to their near extinction it should relative to when they were most viable.
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