Russia to protect endangered big cats

April 16, 2012 at 3:43 PM

MOSCOW, April 16 (UPI) -- A U.S. wildlife advocacy group says a Russian decision to create a "Land of the Leopard" national park is "great news" for endangered big cats.

The park, creating a new protected area in the Russian Far East, was declared April 9 and will safeguard 1,011 square miles of habitat for critically endangered Amur (Siberian) tigers and the world's rarest big cat, the Far Eastern leopard.

"The new park is great news for Far Eastern leopards and Amur tigers," Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program Director Dale Miquelle said in a society release. "We commend the Russian government for their foresight in creating this new protected area, and we are optimistic that it will provide a critical refuge for some of the most endangered big cats on the planet."

The last 30 or so remaining Far Eastern leopards occur in a narrow sliver of Russian forests between the Sea of Japan to the east and Jilin Province, China, to the west, the society said.

A small but vital population of Siberian tigers also exists in the new protected area, it said.

"This is tremendous news for big cat conservation," Peter Zahler, the society's deputy director for Asia, said. "The creation of this park greatly increases the amount of land protecting critical populations of two of the world's big cats, and it will go a long way to securing their future."

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