Hello friends, I have returned from my introduction to field work in the Mattole to find an encouraging story on the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group’s Facebook page. The article, written by Kathleen McLaughlin and published in the magazine Science, concerns a proposed national park in China that could prove crucial for recovering Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) and Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis).
Both of the aforementioned species are in dire straits. Only 540 Amur tigers are thought to remain in the wild, whereas the Amur leopard’s population may be as low as 80. Conservation initiatives have seen both species’ numbers rise in recent years, but they are still highly threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Therefore China’s proposal to create a 15,000 square kilometer national park in the Changbaishan Mountain ecosystem, where scientific studies have detected Amur leopards and tigers, could play a pivotal role in bringing them back from the brink.
The new park also serves as a clear signal that the Chinese government is taking conservation more seriously. Large-scale economic development and poaching have seriously harmed China’s big cat populations, but now they are paying more attention to their endangered wildlife. Just last year, Chinese police cleared 80,000 illegal snares that threatened wild felids and their prey. The Chinese government is also helping the people who will be impacted by the new park to find more sustainable and profitable livelihoods; which will be key to preventing some of the conflicts that oftentimes arise when local people are harmed by conservation projects.
This means that the proposed national park is more than just a critical move to protect Amur tigers and leopards: it signals a change in China’s approach to the environment. It shows that the future of that nations’s wildlife is becoming more important to the Chinese government, which is encouraging. China is home to a stunning array of fascinating creatures, and efforts to conserve wide-ranging carnivores like Amur leopards and tigers could end up benefitting many of them.