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Home>Looking for Leopards

Looking for Leopards


April 27, 2012

by Amy Kaleita

A major challenge in tracking wildlife and biodiversity globally is how difficult it is to get accurate estimates of wild populations, especially of endangered species whose numbers are small.  I have written before about the benefits of technology in wildlife conservation (using GPS to track where and when individual animals move) and another example is the use of “camera traps” for capturing evidence of populations of elusive creatures.

In the last several months, camera traps have documented rare Amur leopards in Russia and northeast China.  These have provided evidence that the number of Amur leopards in the wild is larger than previously thought (although still quite tiny; recent estimates including data from these images puts the entire wild population at about 40).

To date, conservationists credit traditional approaches like  government-established nature reserves and anti-poaching laws for the apparent stabilization of the Amur leopard populations.        But these approaches are costly to implement and/or enforce, which presents a major challenge if these are the only tools available.

Fortunately, they’re not.  Free-market approaches that provide local communities incentives to actively promote and conserve endangered species are in use in the preservation of cousins of the Amur leopard.  Eco-tourism is being effectively used in Tajikistan for conservation of the snow leopard through generating income for the local communities.  Private game reserves are considered by many to be the most viable approach to combating the rhino poaching in South Africa (see for example, here and here).

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