Elusive cats in our backyards: persistence of the North Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis) in a human-dominated landscape in central China.
Integrative Zoology 00: 1–17.
The North Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis), the least‐known big cat, disappeared in most historical range for decades, following the development of modern civilization. Unfortunately, we have scarce knowledge about the status of this big cat so far, apart from anecdotal reports. In this study, we investigated density, distribution and habitat use of leopard, the apex predator, in a complex forest landscape in the Loess Plateau. We used a camera‐trapping network to obtain population estimates for leopards over two years through spatially explicit capture‐recapture models (SECR). Our results, based on maximum likelihood and Bayesian / MCMC methods, reveal that the largest wild population of the leopard was found widely distributed in remnant forests in central Loess plateau. The population is increasing in our study area, and the density of leopards (1.70 (SE = 0.48)‐2.40 (SE = 0.67) / 100 km²) is higher than other areas of China. According to the analysis of two seasonal occupancy models, prey species drive partially the leopard habitat use, predicting that the big cat thrives from the recovery of prey community*. However, human disturbances, especially oil wells, seems to have negative impacts on the habitat use of leopards. Specifically, it is necessary to joint efforts by the government and researchers to improve human disturbances management and prey species population density, as well as strengthen the investment in research on the North China Leopard, which could all further strengthen protection ability and ensure the long‐term survival of this species.
*The leopard prey species include the Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus), the wild boar (Sus scrofa), as well as some small mammals such as the Asian badger (Meles leucurus) and the Tolai hare (Lepus tolai).