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30 October 2000

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Far Eastern leopard faces extinction

BEIJING: The Far Eastern leopard, which once roamed vast forests in Siberia and Manchuria, now numbers as few as 50 animals and faces extinction if quick action is not taken to save it, China's state media said on Sunday.

Its population in the wild has dwindled as excessive logging and development have driven the leopards into isolated pockets of ash forest in north-eastern China and Russia's Far East, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

In China, only between seven and 12 still survive in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, with destruction of habitat pushing those cats to the east toward the Russian border, Xinhua said.

A Russian survey two years ago found another 38 leopards left in that country, Xinhua said, though international conservation groups put the number lower, between 24 and 28.

A report last month by the Switzerland-based World Wildlife Fund for Nature called the Far Eastern leopard, "one of the most critically endangered big cats in the world."

It said the leopard's habitat has shrunk by more than half over the past 20 years, with a rise in illegal logging and poaching following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union also taking a particular toll.

Experts have asked Beijing and Moscow to cooperate in saving the species by establishing a reserve along their common border, Xinhua said. They have also called for breeding the leopards in captivity, the report said. (AP)

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