Wildlife Vets International (WVI)
Mission: The project is part of a wider effort to assess the health of wild and captive leopards and their prey base in the wild. The ultimate aim is to provide comprehensive disease screening of both wild and captive Amur Leopards so a second population can be released into the wild.
Species: Amur Leopard and Amur Tiger
Location: Russian Far East
Support started: 2007
Donating: £5,000 towards the disease screening allowing Dr John Lewis to provide expertise out in the field, continue with the trapping of Amur leopards and tigers and assisting with the training of Russian wildlife veterinarians.
Background: The Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is the rarest big cat and is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Critically Endangered. There are less than 40 individual Amur leopards in the wild. They live in a small area of the Russian Far East in mosaics of deer farms; areas designated for hunting, and in protected areas. Habitat change, forest fires, depletion of prey species, trade and a very small gene pool are the main threats that could lead to its extinction in the wild. The pressure is even greater now that the Chinese border has been opened up and already there has been a drop in Amur Tiger numbers. Foreign non-governmental agencies (NGOs) and regional agencies of the Russian Federation are working together to secure the future of the leopard by protecting the current population and initiating a reintroduction scheme. Wildlife Vets International (WVI) is a British veterinary conservation charity that provides veterinary and scientific support and training to the capture teams, Russian wildlife veterinarians and EEP Amur Leopard holders.
As well as looking at Amur leopard populations the project will now include the Amur tiger in its analysis, seen as they share the same habitat and are vulnerable to the same diseases. The reintroduction programme for the Amur leopard must be subject to rigorous disease control, in order to save this species.
Achievements: Using set leg traps, leopards will be caught and then tranquilised so normal health checks, such as body measurements, blood and hair samples can be recorded. Cardiac information and dental decay will also be measured. Any unusual findings will be discussed with specialists. This data will then be considered when reintroducing a second population of Amur leopards to ensure new pathogens are not being introduced into the area; that any pathogens present will not detrimentally affect captive born leopards planned for release; and that the right leopards are chosen for release. John Lewis, the Amur Leopard EEP veterinary advisor, as well as the vet for Colchester Zoo, is acting as consultant to this project. He will provide professional training to Russian vet students and veterinarians in combating wildlife diseases through training in wildlife epidemiology, knowledge of main wildlife diseases, and workshops for remote darting, capture systems, anaesthesia, animal relocation and humane euthanasia.
Future objectives: Continue with disease surveillance and the reintroduction programme, with the inclusion of looking at Amur tiger populations during the trapping season.
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Amur Leopard caught on a camera trap picture © John Lewis
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