Ecological and biomedical research

Why research Amur leopards?

Very little is known about how Amur leopards live in the wild, and this inhibits our ability to move forward with leopard recovery plans and evaluate the impact of ongoing conservation activities. For example, plans for Amur leopard recovery include the development of a breeding and release centre for reintroduction but we still have much to learn about leopard ecology before we can successfully establish a second population.

Who is carrying out the research? What will they find out?

In 2006 WCS together with the Institute of Biology and Soils (Russian Academy of Sciences), ZSL, and a number of other local and international partners to began a five-year research project on Amur leopards in SW Primorye, Russia. The goal of this project is to collect ecological and biomedical information that is essential for conservation and recovery of the Amur leopard population. Activities include capturing leopards to collect samples for genetic and medical analysis, daily snow tracking of leopards in winter and year-round tracking of radio-collared leopards is also planned.

This project will help us to identify:

  • The primary sources of mortality for leopards. Camera-trap monitoring indicates that leopards have high mortality rates, but the reasons for this are unknown. This information is critical for implementing conservation actions that will increase leopard survival rates.
  • Reproductive success and the risk of inbreeding. Currently there is no information on numbers of females in the leopard population and reproduction rates. Without biomedical investigations and monitoring of individuals to assess reproductive success, it is nearly impossible to determine if inbreeding might be depressing leopard reproduction rates or causing other health problems. Continued investigations are important to determine any inbreeding effects.
  • Movement corridors between the leopard population in Russia and China, and potential movement corridors within Russia if a second leopard population is established through reintroduction.
  • The relationship between tigers and leopards, and how to mitigate competition between the two species. We know that wherever tigers and leopards co-exist, tigers on occasion will kill leopards, and probably interfere in other ways as well.  What we do not know is how significant this interaction is in the Russian Far East.  Studying both tigers and leopards in SW Primorye and how they interact will help us better understand this relationship, and will greatly inform leopard reintroduction efforts, since the proposed area for leopard reintroduction already has relatively high densities of tigers.

ZSL’s involvement in this work includes the development of a laboratory for the analysis of blood and tissue samples from leopards as well as samples from wild and domestic animals from areas where leopards will hopefully be re-introduced. This study is ongoing and will provide information about the diseases among domestic animals and wildlife that are a potential threat to released leopards. The majority of ZSL’s work is financed with a “Darwin Initiative” grant from DEFRA (The U.K. ‘s Department for Environment, Food and and Rural Affairs)