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World's Rarest Leopards Are Experiencing A 'Baby Boom' in Russia

May 23, 2016 05:57 AM EDT
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Here's some good news for the big cats: Images captured by camera traps in the Land of the Leopard National Park in Russia late last year and early this year revealed that the Amur leopard, the world's rarest, is growing in number.

The apparent "baby boom" showed around 16 young leopards, six more than what was recorded in 2014, The Telegraph reported.

TASS, a Russian news agency, reported that the mother leopard named Queen Borte, who got her name from famous American actor Steven Seagal, gave birth to three cubs.

Considered as the rarest of its kind, Amur leopards are listed as a critically endangered species. They live in the temperate forests of Russia and can live for about 10 to 15 years, according to World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).

These leopards were hunted during the 20th century, leading to their decline in numbers. Other threats to their species also included poaching and habitat loss.

WWF reported that the Amur leopard is poached mainly because of its spotted fur. In 1999, it was discovered that their skins were being sold for $500 to $1,000.

The forests that leopards used to inhabit were also close to agricultural areas and villages and humans became their competition for prey and food.

The opening of the national park in Russia in 2012 aided in the recovery of their population. The area covers nearly 650,000 hectares, specifically allocated to protect the critically endangered leopards. Over 1,100 square miles of the forest are covered by the camera trap program, which allows for a better estimate of their numbers over the years.

Efforts from Russian ecologists for their conservation resulted in a doubling of their population in three years, with their numbers climbing from 35 to 70 leopards, as per the 2015 census.

This project was also reported to be receiving financial and political backing from the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, is known to be a patron of the national park.

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