Camera traps along the Russia-China border have captured rare snapshots of good news for Amur leopards: the elusive big cats seem healthy and are very busy making babies. 

With fewer than 100 left in the wild, the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is among the rarest big cats in the world. That number, however, has ticked up ever so slightly with the arrival of 16 cubs at the Land of the Leopard National Park (LLNP) over the past year and a half. 

"The cat family is growing fast," park officials said in a statement. "We have [documented] record numbers of them."

The cats once roamed across the Amur River basin, the mountains of north-eastern China and the Korean peninsula, but they were driven to the brink of extinction during the last century. Today, they survive only in the remote reaches of the Russian Far East. Poaching, disappearing habitat and loss of prey remain their biggest threats, but the cats' decline has also brought another problem: inbreeding.

Th Amur leopard genetic pool is so diminished that inbreeding threatens the cats' long-term survival. To give its leopard populations the best chance at a healthy recovery, the protected territory in LLNP was set up so that it overlaps all of the known leopard breeding grounds, which are passed down from generation to generation.  

Speaking with The Telegraph, the deputy scientific director at the park, Elena Shevtsova, explained that using camera traps has significantly helped researchers obtain population estimates in the park. "It differs from the traditional technique of counting tracks in the snow because it does not rely on the weather or an expert's personal opinions,” she says. 

And leopards are not the only new feline arrivals at the park. Shevtsova and her team have also recorded three healthy Amur tiger cubs within its borders. 


Top header image: Choi Kisun, Land of the Leopard National park