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World's rarest big cat gets a check-up
Date:10/30/2008

NEW YORK (October 30, 2008) The world's rarest big cat is alive and well. At least one of them, that is, according to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who captured and released a female Far Eastern leopard in Russia last week.

The capture was made in Primorsky Krai along the Russian-Chinese border by a team of scientists from WCS and the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology and Soils (IBS). The team is evaluating the health and potential effects of inbreeding for this tiny population, which experts believe contains no more than 10-15 females. Other collaborators include: Wildlife Vets International, National Cancer Institute, and the Zoological Society of London.

The Far Eastern leopard is perhaps the world's most endangered big cat, with an estimated 25-40 individuals inhabiting a narrow strip of land in the far southeastern corner of the Russian Federation.

The leopardess, nicknamed "Alyona" by the researchers who captured her, was in good physical condition, weighing a healthy 85 pounds (39 kilograms). A preliminary health analysis revealed that she is he is believed to be between 8-10 years old. The animal has since been released unharmed.

Specialists are continuing to analyze blood samples as well as an electrocardiogram, which will reveal genetic information to assess levels of inbreeding. Three leopards captured previously (2 males and 1 female) in 2006 and 2007 all exhibited significant heart murmurs, which may reflect genetic disorders.

"We are excited by the capture, and are hopeful that ongoing analysis of biomedical information will confirm that this individual is in good health," said Alexey Kostyria, Ph.D., senior scientist at IBS and manager for the WCS-IBS project. "This research is critical for conservation of the Far Eastern leopard, as it will help us to determine the risks posed by inbreeding and what we can do to mitigate them."

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Contact: Stepehn Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert

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