There are less than 120 Amur leopards living in Eastern Russia's temperate forests, and yet conservationists were able to get a behind-the-scenes look at one "playing like a kitten" among mountaintops last week. According to a Daily Mail report, the wild leopard was caught on camera thanks to one of the hidden recorders that are live in the Land of the Leopard National Park in Primorsky Krai, Russia; the British newspaper published video footage of the cat playfully roaming among the park's terrain, clearly in excellent health.
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The Daily Mail reports that the national park, which was established in 2012 to help repopulate the endangered Amur leopard species among others, has more than 400 hidden cameras overall. Conservationists are focusing on repopulation efforts as much as possible, and these hidden cameras allow them to monitor the leopards' health and natural behavior in the wild. In 2007, only 30 Amur leopards were spotted in the wild, and wildlife experts predicted their extinction, the Siberian Times reports in a recent story.
But the conservationists aren't the only ones trying to save beautiful leopards from the brink of extinction in Russia. This particular species was able to successfully reproduce in 2016 after more than 16 cubs were spotted in the reserve, first established by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tougher state-sponsored penalties on hunters in the area helped the small population grow, with new laws protecting many different leopard breeds as well as Siberian tigers, another endangered species that lives among the tundra to the north. And rather than simply stop hunting, it seems that poachers had a change of heart across the nation when they began aiding conservationists. In Siberia, for example, former poachers have been tagging these animals using cameras they set up instead.
According to CBS News, some of the almost-extinct animals' most fervent hunters have since been employed by the World Wildlife Fund to help keep tabs on them. After all, the Amur leopard—as well as many of the feline predators across the diverse Asian continent—are notoriously elusive, which is why the rare footage is considered an important win for conservationists in the area. At the last count, there are upwards of 86 Amur leopards living in the wild, with 21 cubs slowly making their way towards adulthood. For more than five years, the WWF has been snapping photos and videos of all kinds of animals (Amur leopards included!) with the help of more than two dozen locals, CBS News reports. It seems that their hard work will allow wildlife aficionados across the world to enjoy rare footage like the one we've just seen for years to come.