The Amur leopard (Pathera pardus ssp. orientalis) may be the most endangered big cat in the world. As recently as 2007 no more than 30 of these rare felids were thought to inhabit the Russian Far East (Jackson & Nowell, 2008). Now there may be as many as 80.
Conservation successes such as this are rarely the result of a single intervention. However, a government-backed insurance scheme has played an important role in the Amur leopard’s recovery. When one of these cats kills domestic livestock, ranchers are eligible to be compensated for their loss. But they will only be reimbursed if they refrain from killing the leopard. It is hard to overstate how important this is.
There are many programs which compensate livestock owners for damage cause by predators. But these initiatives, which fall under the category of Payments to Encourage Co-existence (PEC), do not always succeed (Macdonald, Boitani, Dinerstein, Fritz, & Wrangham, 2013). Factors that get in the way include insufficient payments, administrative red-tape, and a lack of conditionality. The latter failing occurs when payments are not directly tied to pro-conservation behavior (St. John, Keane, & Milner-Gulland, 2013). The Amur leopard insurance program is conditional, because only those ranchers who do not kill the cats will be reimbursed for their losses. Another key aspect of this scheme is that it has strong governmental support.
It will be interesting to see how this insurance program evolves. As Amur leopard numbers continue to rise, livestock depredation might become more common. This might weaken livestock owners’ tolerance for the cats, as well as make the scheme more expensive to maintain. Environmentally sensitive measures of livestock protection may have to be employed, such as the use of livestock guarding dogs.