Wednesday, May 16, 2007

New hope in midst of Amur leopard crisis

The Russian Government has announced a raft of new measures to save the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis­), the world's most endangered big cat, from extinction. The announcement came following action by numerous conservation organisations, including AMUR, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and IFAW, urging for increased protection of the species.

The measures announced included massive increases in fines for poaching of the species, as well as plans to consolidate the three national parks currently home to the big cat, with greater protective measures put in place. Fines for the poaching of leopards and tigers will be increased by thirty times, to six hundred thousand roubles or approximately one hundred times the annual Russian minimum wage. Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Russian Environmental Protection Agency, outlined the plans and reiterated the Russian Government's commitment to protect the country's biodiversity.

"To date, penalties for poaching this endangered animal in Russia have been completely derisory," commented Sarah Christie, ZSL conservation programme manager. "A female Amur leopard was very recently found in the Russian forests, slaughtered by poachers. With only around thirty individuals left in the wild, this leopard simply cannot afford to lose a breeding female to this kind of illegal human activity. The huge increases in fines being introduced by the Russian Government could not be more timely or more essential."

The dead female Amur leopard was found in the Barsovy National Wildlife Reserve in southern Primore, Russia. A post-mortem was undertaken by ZSL and Wildlife Vets International, which found that the animal had been shot at the base of the tail, incapacitating it, and had then been beaten around the head with a blunt instrument such as a hatchet, causing death. The loss of this individual could have significant ramifications for the reproductive potential of the tiny remaining wild population.

Sharon Miller, Founder of AMUR, stated, "The new resolve of the Russian Government is immensely significant and a huge step forward in the fight to save this extraordinary and charismatic cat from extinction."

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