Leopards are fascinating animals. In addition to being sublime hunters that will eat nearly anything and can survive in varied habitats from forests to deserts, they are able to withstand temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees F) during winter to plus 40 degrees in summer.
Despite their resilience, poaching and habitat loss has caused leopard populations everywhere to have a tough time. But it appears that’s not the case for the big cats in the Loess Plateau of northern China, where numbers of the North Chinese leopard subspecies have increased, according to recent research.
“We were quite surprised that the number of leopards has increased because their populations are declining in many other places. We knew that there were leopards in this area, but we had no idea how many,” says Bing Xie, a Ph.D. student at Copenhagen University and one of the researchers of the study that was published in Integrative Zoology.
In a joint effort with scientists at Beijing Normal University, Xie covered more than 300 square miles of the Loess Plateau between 2016 and 2017. Camera footage installed by Xie and her fellow research colleagues showed an increase of 25 percent in the area’s leopard population from 88 in 2016 to 110 in 2017.
The reason for this spotted golden giant’s rebound likely reflects the 13th five-year plan that the Chinese government, in consultation with a range of scientific researchers, implemented in 2015 to restore biodiversity in the area.
“About 20 years ago, much of the Loess Plateau’s forest habitat was transformed into agricultural land. Human activity scared away wild boars, toads, frogs, and deer - making it impossible for leopards to find food. Now that much of the forest has been restored, prey has returned, along with the leopards,” explains Xie.
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