Specialists from the Research Center for Endangered Species at the National Institute of Ecology of South Korea visited the “Land of the Leopard” National Park. Together with their Russian counterparts, they discussed the possibility of the Amur leopard reintroduction to Korea. Prepared animals are planned to be released from captivity into the wild.
The researchers of the “Land of the Leopard” told guests about wildlife monitoring, and showed the “To the leopard lair” ecological trail. In addition, experts from the national park advised South Korean colleagues about the possibility of transferring two specimens of the Amur leopard from Russian zoos to South Korea.
"The return of the leopard to the wild nature of Korea is our dream and a difficult environmental task. It would be symbolic if the Russian side could transfer a couple of zoo leopards to our center to form the core of the future group for reintroduction," said the executive director of the Research Center for Endangered Species at the National Institute of Ecology of South Korea Choi Gi Hyung.
In the 20th century, the biodiversity of several rare animal species was significantly reduced in South Korea. During this period, the Amur tiger, the Amur leopard, the Far Eastern stork and other species significant for this area disappeared from the Korean Peninsula. Currently, South Korean environmental organizations are engaged in restoring a population of rare animal species on the peninsula. So, in 2015, the first Far Eastern storks were released on the peninsula; more than 40 specimens found their home there.
Today, the National Institute of Ecology of South Korea is actively working on the reintroduction of the Amur leopard. Thus, in September 2019 - as a part of cooperation with the FSBI “Land of the Leopard” - a study of the genetic diversity of tigers and leopards has begun in collaboration with specialists from Seoul National University. Scientists studied the extracted DNA from samples collected in the southwest of the Primorsky Territory. In addition, the experts from the “Land of the Leopard” and the National Institute of Ecology of South Korea have launched a joint project to study the possibility of restoring the Amur leopard population.
"In May of this year, we were able to visit the north-east of the Republic of Korea and examine the big cat enclosures built at the Research Center for Endangered Species. The scope of investments and the veterinary equipment supplies are impressive. But we were even more pleased with the success in restoring populations of wild ungulates - gorals, roe deer and water deer - which are potential prey. There are relatively few people here compared to other regions of Korea, and it was in Yeongyang County that the last leopard sighting was recorded. The ecosystems` condition allows the exploration of the possibility of restoring this charismatic species in the Republic of Korea, " said Yuri Darman, deputy director for science at the FSBI “Land of the Leopard”.
The Amur leopard is the rarest subspecies of the felidae family on Earth. It is the most peaceful and northernmost subspecies of leopard. A hundred years ago, these predators populated the entire Korean peninsula and northeast of China. However, in the twentieth century, hunting for this amazing beast, and fires in its habitat led to disastrous consequences. Currently, the Amur leopard is on the verge of extinction. According to various estimates, about 80 specimens live in natural conditions. Moreover, most of the population lives on the territory of Russia in the Primorsky Territory and a smaller part - in China. About 70% of the habitat of the rare predator is under the protection of the “Land of the leopard” National Park. In 2018, 92 adult spotted cats and 22 kittens were recorded on its territory.
Since 2011, the Russian Geographical Society has been supporting the “Amur Leopard” project. Its purpose is to study the state of the predator populations, as well as the development of the infrastructure of specially protected natural territories within its habitat.