A team of conservationists recently captured a female Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) from the rugged Primorsky Krai region of Russia's Far East. The scientists gathered detailed health information for the leopard, including blood analysis, electrocardiogram, and weight measurements. After the medical data was collected, they released the leopard unharmed, back into its home territory. The team is now in the process of evaluating the data they collected to determine the cat's overall health and look for any signs of inbreeding.
The Amur leopard is among the world's most endangered large cats—only 25–40 individuals remain in the wild. In 2006 and 2007, health analysis of three Amur leopards revealed that all had significant heart murmurs—a condition that reflects a possible underlying genetic disorder within the small population. If inbreeding is determined to be a problem for the Amur leopard population, conservationists might consider trans-locating leopards from other regions to increase the genetic diversity of this rare subspecies.
The conservation team included a collaboration of experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology and Soils, Wildlife Vets International, the National Cancer Institute, and the Zoological Society of London. They are hopeful about the future of the rare cat:
"We are excited by the capture, and are hopeful that ongoing analysis of biomedical information will confirm that this individual is in good health. This research is critical for conservation of the Far Eastern leopard, as it will help us to determine the risks posed by inbreeding and what we can do to mitigate them." ~ Alexey Kostyria, Ph.D., senior scientist at IBS and manager for the WCS-IBS project.
Like many large carnivores around the world, the Amur leopard faces multiple threats, the most onerous of which are poaching and habitat loss. Fortunately, the population of Amur leopards, though small, has remained steady for the last three decades. But the population exhibits a high rate of turnover of individuals and experts hope that if inbreeding is fueling this turnover, then any action to reduce its effects would greatly benefit the subspecies.
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