Published: 23rd September 2020
Rare leopards reappear in habitats near Beijing after over two decades
The leopard, also known as the Chinese leopard, is classified as a national first-class protected animal in China. It is a clear sign that their population has continued to grow
North China leopards, once on the edge of extinction, have been spotted again in their traditional mountainous habitats near Beijing after more than two decades following improvement in their living enviornment, the official media here reported. It is a clear sign that the population of the rare subspecies of leopard has continued to grow as the environment in the region has improved, a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency said. The leopard, also known as the Chinese leopard, is classified as a national first-class protected animal in China.
It once widely inhabited in Beijing, the provinces of Hebei and Shanxi and other parts of North China. However, in the second half of the 20th century, deforestation and rampant illegal hunting led to a sharp decrease in its numbers. By 2008, the population had reduced to fewer than 500, while their habitat area was estimated to have declined by 80 per cent.
Since November 2012, the endangered leopard has been repeatedly spotted in its traditional habitats in Hebei province-Xiaowutai Mountain and Tuoliang-thanks to conservation efforts in the region, the report said. Most recently, a North China leopard was spotted in Hebei Tuoliang National Nature Reserve on August 20, according to Huang Qiaowen of the Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance (CFCA), a nonprofit organisation specialising in the protection of wildcats in China. "Twenty years ago, these big cats almost vanished in the mountains near Beijing. Now, they have found their way back. This is really good news," said Song Dazhao, former chairman of the CFCA told Xinhua.
The expansion of forests is the main reason for the increase in the North China leopard's population, said Yang Xiaodong, chairman of an animal protection association in Heshun county, Shanxi. The Taihang Mountains, which sit across Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi and Henan province, used to be the traditional habitat of the leopard. Since the launch of an afforestation project in Taihang in 1994, over 7.3 million hectares have been brought under green cover, with the forest coverage rate increasing from 11 per cent to 22.4 per cent.
"The project has improved the living environment of the North China leopards and has reduced the impact of human activities on them," Yang said. Last year, an infrared camera captured a female North China leopard wandering with two cubs in the forest of Heshun. It was the fourth time that evidence of leopards breeding had been recorded in Heshun since 2018. Over the past two years, 15 leopard cubs have been spotted in the forest.
"In just one year, we identified 44 North China leopards in Heshun, which showed that the population of the species in the region has reached a satisfactory level," Huang said. The Heshun government has launched a special fund to offer farmers compensation of 1,000 to 2,000 yuan (USD 150 to USD 300) for each livestock animal killed by a North China leopard. The move is expected to reduce retaliation against the leopards. The government has also built animal passages and modified the planned routes of some highway projects to minimise their impact on nature reserves.