A rare Amur leopard, one of an estimated 30 left in the wild, was captured in Russia and examined by conservation experts before being released.
Representatives of a consortium of conservation organizations — including the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London — captured the female Amur (Panthera pardus orientalis) in south-west Primorye, a remote location in the Russian Far East, along the Chinese border.
The animal was tranquilised and examined by a veterinary team. There are between 24 and 32 Amur leopards living in the wild, making the animal the rarest big cat on Earth.
The Amur leopard is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. There are currently estimated to be between 25 — 34 Amur leopards left in the wild, distributed in south-west Primorskii Krai, between Vladivostok and the Sino-Russian border. Male leopards can weigh up to 50kg, females as little as 35kg, and they are carnivorous, feeding mainly on deer. The leopard inhabits mixed forest environments and has long fur to help it withstand the freezing weather.
The project's co-leaders, Russian biologist Alexei Kostyria and John Goodrich of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the unprecedented level of international collaboration was essential if the critically endangered leopard is to avoid extinction.
Since the wild population is so small, experts said it's important to determine if inbreeding is occurring in order to plan conservation programmes.
There are currently approximately 130 Amur leopards in zoos across Europe and Russia; all part of a breeding program coordinated by the Zoological Society of London and the Moscow Zoo.
Kostyria, biologist from the Institute of Biology and Soils in Vladivostok and co-leader of the project, said, "This capture represents a new benchmark in assessing health of wild animals in Russia. We have brought together top experts from Russia and around the world and taken state-of-the-art equipment deep into the taiga to conduct medical assessments of the Far Eastern leopard. We have an unprecedented level of collaboration and remarkable effort that is essential if we are to save this critically endangered leopard."
Goodrich of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said, "Catching this female was a big step forward in our efforts to understand the status of this population, and to better define necessary conservation actions needed to conserve this population."