Beijing’s Mentougou District recently launched the Welcome Home Leopard program, and thanks to improvements in the ecological environment and biodiversity conservation, the North China leopard has reappeared.
Located at the junction of Taihang and Yanshan Mountains, Mentougou District is the original habitat of the North China leopard and one of seven biodiversity hubs in Beijing, with natural or semi-natural ecosystem types such as forests, grasslands, rivers and wetlands containing 1,936 plant and animal species.
“Sixty years ago we found a leopard here.” said Ma Yuanqing, a villager from Mentougou County. He used his hand to compare the size of the leopard and recalled the scene from back then.
Long and muscular, mostly diurnal and athletic, North China leopards are good at waiting for their prey, like rulers of the dark night and assassins of the jungle.
There are nine subspecies of leopard, and four subspecies live in China. They left their native Africa about 300,000 years ago and took more than 100,000 years to traverse the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia before reaching East Asia, where they gradually formed new subspecies.
It is still unclear when the North China leopard population began to decline. Some researchers believe the decline began in the Ming and Qing dynasties when the introduction of crops such as corn and sweet potatoes led to huge population growth, causing people to reclaim more land for growing crops.
“Natural disasters and climate change may have caused the decline of leopards in northern China,” said Deng Wenhong, a professor at Beijing Normal University’s School of Life Sciences and a longtime researcher on biodiversity.
In 2008, Song Dazhao, who was working for an internet company at the time, joined a private organization called the Sanbei Feline Research Institute as a volunteer to track north China leopards in Shanxi, and in 2013, Song founded a conservation organization, the Feline Alliance.
Song said that in 2009 he and the Cat Alliance searched for tracks from North China leopards in many locations in Beijing, including Huairou, Fangshan, Miyun and Mentougou. Finally, North China leopard tracks were recorded in Mentougou. For this reason, they installed more than 10 infrared cameras around Mount Baihua, but unfortunately they never spotted the North China leopard.
At the Baihuashan Wildlife Sanctuary, a staffer who works in the field year-round said they also used infrared cameras to search for wild animals, as well as observed droppings and tracks, but found no tracks of north China leopards.
In 2012, a north China leopard was captured by an infrared camera placed on a mountain by Song, who said the leopard was sighted just 30 kilometers from Beijing a month after the camera was placed.
Since then, there have been frequent records of North China leopards appearing near Beijing, some photographed by the infrared cameras set up by the Cat Alliance and some by villagers.
Simultaneously with the “Welcome Leopard Home” program, Mentougou District released a Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, which promotes ecological conservation, survey and protection of biodiversity.
In addition, Mentougou District has committed to promoting the action plan for protecting and restoring wildlife habitats based on the Welcome Home Leopard program and improving the quality of habitats through intelligent resource monitoring. In addition, it said it will conduct popular science education programs, build a scientific research cooperation platform, and set up a wildlife epidemic surveillance system.
Feng Limin, associate professor at Beijing Normal University’s School of Life Sciences, said the natural forests in the western and northern areas of Beijing cover thousands of square kilometers. Three challenges remain in restoring leopard populations in these thousands of square miles of forest: ecosystem restoration; combating the disruption of wildlife populations by human activities; and the symbiosis between humans and animals.
(Image via VCG)
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