Siberian Tiger Kills Amur Leopard in NE China

Siberian Tiger Kills Amur Leopard in Northeast China National Park

Wildlife experts describe this clash between the two endangered species in China’s Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park bordering Russia as highly unusual, given the rarity of tigers encountering the more agile and cautious leopards in the wild

In the heart of northeast China’s dense forests, wildlife researchers are working to unravel a rare yet violent encounter between two endangered species: an Amur leopard was found dead, and all the evidence gathered so far points to an unusual suspect — a Siberian tiger (also known as an Amur tiger).

The Amur leopard — identified as No. 73 — was found dead with multiple bite marks on its head, abdomen, and hindquarters on Dec. 23 in a forest near Hunchun city, which is part of China’s Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park bordering Russia. 

Following the discovery of the carcass, park officials found footprints of another feline species on the snow-covered ground. There were also signs of a fierce struggle located about 160 meters away, Yu Hongxun, deputy director of the national park’s Hunchun branch, told domestic media.

Further examination revealed that the footprints, approximately 11.5 centimeters in width, likely belonged to a male Amur tiger. While the tiger is estimated to weigh over 200 kilograms, the dead leopard weighed around 50 kilograms. 

Feng Limin, deputy director of the Monitoring and Research Center for Amur Tigers and Amur Leopards under the National Forests and Grasslands Administration, is part of the team investigating the case. Speaking to Sixth Tone, Feng explained that such an encounter is exceedingly rare, given the unlikelihood of tigers coming across the more agile and wary leopards in the wild.

“Leopards have a large activity area, and they are also very smart. They have learned how to hide from tigers outside, but there are always times when they can’t hide, like this time,” says Feng. 

The incident occurred in a relatively open space, offering little cover for the leopard. 

“When the two cats suddenly came across each other, the leopard had no time to find a place to hide, so it was killed by the tiger,” he said. 

Each tiger and leopard in the park is documented via video footage, enabling researchers to identify the leopard as No. 73 based on its unique fur pattern. The 8-year-old male had been captured over 800 times by the park’s monitoring system, with the most recent footage dating back to September 2023. 

According to Feng, cameras have also identified at least 10 different Amur tigers in the area over the past year. Notably, one tiger — labeled No. 112 — has emerged as the primary suspect, based on its tracking records. To further confirm its identity, Feng’s team is planning to conduct DNA testing. 

While the incident is a somber reminder of the brutal realities of the wild, Feng also sees it as an indicator of the recovery and thriving population of these endangered species in their carefully preserved habitat. 

Mainly distributed in Russia and northeast China, Amur tigers and Amur leopards have been classified as endangered, primarily due to poaching and human encroachment on their habitats. Presently, there are about 500 wild Amur tigers worldwide, whereas the Amur leopard is in a more critical state with fewer than 200 remaining.

In response to this conservation challenge, China has intensified its efforts to protect these rare big cats. One significant step was the establishment of the Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park in October 2021. Announced in 2016, the park spans parts of Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, and is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. 

Feng attributes the growing populations of both big cat species to effective scientific management and dedicated conservation efforts, marking a significant turnaround from the 1990s when both species were on the verge of extinction in China.

Recent data from the Forestry and Grassland Department of Jilin province corroborates this success: the number of wild Amur tigers and leopards in the national park have respectively risen from 27 and 42 in 2017 to over 50 and 60 today. And in the last year alone, the park has recorded the birth of over 20 tiger cubs and 15 leopard cubs.

For Feng, who has been studying Amur tigers and leopards in northeast China since 2006, the rising numbers signify more than mere data. They highlight the success of China’s conservation strategies and give researchers like him opportunities to discover and study rare natural phenomena. 

“The park’s real-time monitoring system basically has full coverage now,” says Feng, adding that the system helped researchers trace leopard No. 73’s entire history at the park.  

He says investigating this rare conflict between two predators not only holds considerable scientific importance but motivates researchers to examine the patterns of ecological recovery. 

He says: “This incident offers a valuable chance to observe how we can develop our national park system, restore our ecosystems and food chains, and understand the changes that occur during these processes.”

Source: Sixth Tone, January 04, 2024.