The Chinese leopard that did not escape the “road kill”

The Chinese leopard that did not escape the “road kill”

The leopard was lying on the ground, dead for several hours, the blood from the leg wound and the corner of the mouth was starting to coagulate. Guo Zhihong rushed to the forest farm and confirmed that the dead was a female North China leopard, which belonged to the first-level national key protected wild animals. Guo Zhihong is the deputy director of the Liupanshan National Nature Reserve Administration Office in Ningxia. He has worked in Liupanshan for 23 years and has seen the North China leopard twice.

This North China leopard died in a car accident in the early morning of December 29, 2022. The accident happened near the Diediegou section of Provincial Highway S203 in Guyuan City, Ningxia. It is more than 100 kilometers away from Liupanshan National Nature Reserve, an important distribution area of ​​North China leopards, and only 20 kilometers away from downtown Guyuan. From the map, this road runs through the mountains, which means that if the leopard wants to migrate from one side of the mountain to the other, it must cross the road.

On December 29, 2022, a female North China leopard died in a car accident in Guyuan City, Ningxia. Filming: Guo Zhihong

The North China leopard is the only leopard subspecies endemic to China among the nine leopard subspecies currently recognized in the world. It is also known as the Chinese leopard and the leopard. It is listed as a Vulnerable (VU) species by the IUCN Red List. Due to the lack of scientific and systematic investigation and research on the North China leopard, the academic community has yet to give a unified answer to the number of wild North China leopards in China. 1000 pieces”.

Wang Fang’s team from the School of Life Sciences of Fudan University has been conducting investigations on the protection of North China leopards in Liupanshan for three years. Wang Fang told China News Weekly that there are only about 30 North China leopards in Liupanshan, and now one has died due to accidents. A healthy adult leopard and a fertile female, what a pity.

Leopard “road kill” incidents not only occurred in Liupanshan, but in recent years, leopards died in car accidents in Lingchuan County, Zhongyang County and other places in Shanxi Province.

In addition to causing road kills, the impact of roads on wild leopard populations is also reflected in many aspects such as encroaching on and cutting off leopard habitats. Liu Beibei is the head of North China leopard research at the China Feline Conservation Alliance (hereinafter referred to as the Cat Alliance). She believes that roads are a very important factor in the recovery of the North China leopard population.

Wild leopard populations are recovering

Historically, most forests in China have been infested by leopards. According to Feng Limin, deputy director of the Northeast Tiger and Leopard Monitoring and Research Center of the State Forestry and Grass Administration and associate professor of the Tiger and Leopard Research Team of Beijing Normal University, in the past hundred years, the distribution area and population of leopards around the world have begun to decrease, especially in recent decades. began to drop sharply. China’s leopard population faces a similar situation. Leopards have gradually disappeared from most of China’s historical distribution areas. Around 2000, some special surveys carried out by the forestry department showed that the distribution of leopards was sharply decreasing in Northeast China, North China and other provinces, but scientific statistics on the number of leopards have always been lacking.

There are many reasons for the decline of leopards. According to statistics, Shanxi Province killed about 1,750 North China leopards in the 1960s alone. In addition to human hunting, habitat destruction and natural disasters are also factors that lead to the decline of leopards.

After 2000, information about the appearance of leopards gradually increased. Feng Limin said that during this period, the Chinese government implemented a series of ecological protection projects, such as the natural forest protection project, the Three North Shelterbelt Project and other large-scale ecological protection projects. The forests and biodiversity in many key forest areas have been rescued and protected, and more The important change is that with the continuous advancement of urbanization, more and more people are moving from rural areas to cities, and the intensity of human activities and forest disturbance in these remote areas have also been greatly alleviated. Therefore, wild animals in many areas Animal populations get a rare chance to recuperate. This is the most important context for the possible recovery of leopard populations in historic habitats.

“The few remaining individuals or small populations of leopards have had a chance to breathe, have the opportunity to reproduce successfully, and have gradually achieved population recovery through generation after generation.” Despite this, Feng Limin said that from 2000 to 2010, domestic concern There are very few researchers on leopards. “At this time, there were very few places in China that had evidence of leopards, and no one knew where there were leopards. Of course, very few people paid attention to and studied them.”

After 2010, the number of places where information about leopards was discovered increased, and places such as Shaanxi and Shanxi began to have conclusive images of leopards in the wild. As a large carnivore at the top of the food chain, the leopard can only support the effective reproduction and development of the leopard population only if its living ecosystem and food chain are restored to a good condition.

North China leopard taken by Maomeng with an infrared camera in Heshun County. Image source: Cat League

Years of research by the tiger and leopard research team of Beijing Normal University have shown that the leopard population on the Loess Plateau has begun to recover on a large scale. Leopards have been found in many mountain systems, forest areas or protected areas. Among them, more than There are 100 leopard populations, and the number of leopard populations in many places is increasing.

Feng Limin concluded that in the past 20 years, the number of leopards in China has dropped to an extremely low level, but it has begun to bottom out and rebounded. Now it has shown a trend of increasing or even recovering rapidly in many regions.

As leopard populations grow and recover, population dispersal must occur.

Big cats are very territorial and require large areas of habitat. Feng Limin said that when the leopard’s female offspring grow up, they will usually leave their birthplace, establish their own territory and then breed. After the male offspring grow up, they will leave their birthplace even further, and may even travel long distances, spreading dozens or even more than 100. Km, this is a long-term evolutionary behavior mechanism of large cats to avoid inbreeding, “it is because of this dispersal behavior that the leopard population has expanded.”

The North China leopard that was killed on the Ningxia highway may have encountered an accident during the spread of the North China leopard population.

Guo Zhihong said that the female leopard that was killed on the road in Guyuan City was actually far away from the core habitat of the North China leopard in Liupan Mountain, and “should belong to a population that spread from Liupan Mountain in recent years.” A few years ago, there were still barren hills nearby. With the afforestation in recent years, the number of trees has increased. The forest ranger there told Guo Zhihong that four North China leopards were found at one time on the nearby mountains last year. “It may be a family.” .

Wang Fang was not surprised by what happened to this leopard. “One of our basic judgments is that as nature protection gets better and better, such things may happen more and more. Because the number of leopards is increasing, the more More and more leopards will take the initiative to migrate, disperse, and find new habitats. Therefore, whether it is in Liupan Mountain or elsewhere, the number of cases of this wild animal breaking into people’s lives through road killing or other methods may increase.”

The Complex Effects of Highways

China has the largest road network scale in the world. According to statistics from the Ministry of Transport, by the end of 2021, the total mileage of China’s roads has reached 5.28 million kilometers, forming a national road network with expressways as the skeleton, ordinary trunk lines as the veins, and rural roads as the basis.

The impact of roads on wildlife populations is complex. Sometimes the animals respond very positively to the road.

“In fact, many animals like roads, because the land will be leveled during the road construction process, and the slopes on both sides of the road are gentler. It is actually more convenient for animals to migrate and spread along the road or along the road,” Wang Fang said. , on both sides of the road, the composition of forests and shrubs will be more complex, there may be more broad-leaved trees, shrubs or weeds, and there may be more food, which is an environment with more opportunities for animals , “Even for the North China leopard, the landscape created by the highway still has some attraction to them, because the leopard can forage and move more conveniently.”

Guo Zhihong found that in Liupan Mountain, North China leopards often swagger along the fire escapes, and also use some abandoned trails with low human interference.

But when roads are in key leopard habitat and bring a lot of foot traffic and traffic, it puts pressure on leopard populations.

The first is that road killing incidents will increase. In May 2017, a male leopard was killed on a road in Lingchuan County, Shanxi. In July 2021, a traffic policeman in Zhongyang County, Shanxi Province found a dead leopard while dealing with a rear-end collision. The local Forestry Bureau stated that it might have been killed on the Zhongyang-Xiaoyi Highway. In November 2021, someone found an injured leopard on the G227 national highway in Sichuan. It died of its injuries soon after, probably due to a car accident. In December 2021, a leopard in Jiaokou County, Shanxi was hit by a passing vehicle and left on its own, possibly dead.

In addition, roads will divide habitats into isolated islands, hindering the communication of animal populations. Liu Beibei said that when the roads continue to harden and widen, barriers, fences and drainage ditches are set up, and the traffic volume is too large and the speed is too fast, leopards will hardly pass the road, and the complete population will be cut into small pieces. In the population, the choice of mates is limited, which leads to inbreeding, genetic defects, and population degradation.

Heshun County in Shanxi is an important habitat for the North China leopard. In the past few years, Liu Beibei has conducted road impact research in Shanxi. Infrared cameras have been installed at the intersections of various grades of roads and passes in Heshun County to monitor the response of the North China leopard and its prey species to the road.

Liu Beibei found that the higher the grade of the road, the greater the impact on the leopard, and the less likely the leopard will pass. If it is a first-class highway with two-way four lanes and a separation belt in the middle, the North China Leopard can hardly cross it. “For example, there is a 207 National Highway in the middle of Heshun County, which divides Heshun County into the west and the east, and there is only a small amount of North China in the east. individual leopards, and have almost no communication with the North China leopards to the west.” If it is a two-way, two-lane secondary road, Leopard will decide whether to pass according to the traffic flow and noise. The township roads and county roads with smaller traffic volume have basically no impact on Leopard.

Now, on the west side of Heshun County, the highway has not had a great impact on the North China leopard population. But Liu Beibei is worried that if several roads close to or even cross the habitat of the North China leopard continue to be upgraded, the North China leopards on both sides of the road may not be able to communicate.

Is it necessary to build an ecological corridor?

A few days after the female North China leopard died in a car accident in Ningxia, Song Dazhao came to Liupan Mountain. He is the founder of Cat League. Since the beginning of 2020, the Liupanshan Forestry Bureau of Guyuan City and Wang Fang’s team from the School of Life Sciences of Fudan University have cooperated with Cat League to carry out investigations on the protection of North China leopards in Liupan Mountain, and jointly released some research reports.

Song Dazhao and Guo Zhihong began to discuss the plan to build an ecological corridor in Liupanshan Nature Reserve.

“For localities, if the economy is to develop, it is impossible not to build roads. There will be more roads in the future. But at the same time, how to balance the survival rights of wild animals? This is an important issue.” Song Dazhao It is believed that the construction of ecological corridors will be a very important work for future ecological construction.

Ecological corridors can maintain habitat connections between wildlife habitats and combat habitat fragmentation. Liu Beibei wrote in an article that according to the construction scale and internal composition, ecological corridors can be divided into two types: habitat corridors and biological passages. Habitat corridors can be regarded as large-scale biological corridors, whose length and scope are much larger than biological passages. Generally, they must have suitable internal habitats in which species can live, move and spread, and can also adapt to the external environment in the process. Variety. Biological passages are small-scale corridors. According to different construction forms, they are divided into on-road type, under-road type, viaduct, and culvert. .

“Our country realized more than 30 years ago that if we want to protect a species for a long time, we must use corridors to connect these island-like habitats.” Wang Fang said that in the past 30 years Multiple giant panda corridors have been established in the Minshan and Qionglai Mountains, and these corridors prove that when giant pandas can migrate between habitats, each population has experienced a steady increase in numbers.

Wang Fang said that in addition to the giant panda corridor, there are relatively successful related domestic cases such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Wildlife Passage that ensures the migration of Tibetan antelopes and other animals, and Hainan’s canopy rope bridge corridor built for the habitat of gibbons.

According to researchers engaged in the conservation survey of the North China leopard, the construction of ecological corridors in some key habitats is particularly important.

In Heshun County, a county road 337 crosses the important habitat of the North China leopard. For quite a long time in the past, due to the low grade of Highway 337, the traffic volume was not large, and it did not cause obvious barriers to the local North China leopard population. However, Heshun County has plans to upgrade this road. According to Liu Beibei, who is in charge of the scientific research of the Cat League, once the 337 county road is upgraded, it will obviously hinder the exchange of leopard populations in Heshun County.

At the end of 2020, the Heshun County Government proposed a plan to upgrade County Road 337 to a first-class road at a meeting, and proposed to build animal passages. Liu Beibei pointed out at the meeting that various data from the Cat League show that after County Road 337 is built as a first-class road, leopards will not be able to pass through it at all, and the traffic volume of County Road 337 is not large, so there is no need to build a first-class road. In addition, Liu Beibei pointed out that the experts invited to design the animal passage were not familiar with animals, and pointedly refuted their design of the animal passage.

By 2022, the Heshun County Government has made some adjustments to this project and has hired experts from Northeast Forestry University to redesign the animal passages. Liu Beibei believes that when road upgrades are unavoidable, the construction of animal passages is a rescue strategy.

In the Liupanshan Nature Reserve, Guo Zhihong has realized that an ecological corridor may need to be built a few years ago. “Now Liupan Mountain can still accommodate these North China leopards, but with the strengthening of protection efforts, the number of North China leopards will increase. In the future, they may spread outside the reserve. Then the township roads, county roads, and provincial roads outside the reserve may be lost. impact on the spread of leopard populations.”

Liupanshan National Nature Reserve. Filming: Guo Zhihong

There is a concept in biology, “minimum survivable population”, which refers to the minimum number required for a population to survive healthily within a certain period of time. Wang Fang said that the number of North China leopards in Liupanshan is about 30, which is less than the minimum survivable population limit of 50. There is communication, otherwise it will affect the long-term survival of the North China leopard in Liupanshan.

In fact, in habitats where leopard populations are steadily recovering, the construction of ecological corridors may already need to be planned in advance.

At present, the population of leopards in the Ziwuling area of ​​Yan’an is the first to recover to a certain level, and this population is still showing a continuous growth trend. In the future, it is bound to continue to spread to the surrounding and even other historical habitats in other provinces, and will become the restoration of other historical habitats of the North China leopard. a key provenance. Some experts believe that if the leopard population must go out in the future, it is necessary to allow the leopard to smoothly reach another large habitat from here. Assuming that it will definitely pass through some roads, some auxiliary means are needed, such as building animal passages, restoring vegetation, and strengthening monitoring within a certain period of time so that the leopard can pass safely.

How to build an ecological corridor suitable for leopards?

In mid-January 2023, Guo Zhihong walked around the Liupanshan Nature Reserve where leopards are prone to haunt. After the Spring Festival, he plans to fly the drone over the entire forest area and the areas where wild animals may appear outside the reserve, marking the places where corridors may need to be built. After the Spring Festival, Guo Zhihong also wanted to invite Wang Fang’s team to Liupanshan to discuss the location of the ecological corridor, and then promote the construction of the Liupanshan ecological corridor.

Site selection is one of the most critical links in the process of ecological corridor construction. And site selection is not an easy task, it needs to be established on the basis of scientific research.

In the past three years, the Liupanshan Forestry Bureau of Guyuan City, Wang Fang’s team from the School of Life Sciences of Fudan University, and Maomeng have used hundreds of infrared cameras and hundreds of thousands of photos to investigate the distribution of North China leopards in Liupanshan, and analyze the distribution of North China through models. Patterns of habitat use and activity by leopards.

Wang Fang said that now they can roughly judge the places where leopards may cross the road. “If we build a model based on the data and predict some places, it will definitely be possible.”

However, Wang Fang also said that because the historical data on leopards is basically blank, and currently only has the data of the past three years or so, “Can the data of these three years fully represent the activities of leopards? How many places can we predict based on this?” Accurate? We actually don’t have 100% confidence.” In fact, there are still many gaps in the academic research on leopards. After all, relatively systematic surveys on leopards began more than ten years ago, and some leopard habitats have only established monitoring networks in recent years.

Wang Fang plans to deploy some infrared cameras on both sides of some important roads in Liupanshan to conduct supplementary investigation and monitoring for the corridor site selection. He plans to go to Liupanshan in February or March and walk along the surrounding roads carefully. The valleys on both sides of the place where the North China leopard was killed this time also need to conduct a thorough investigation.

Even with scientific site selection, will wild animals definitely use animal passages?

At present, there is still a lack of construction cases of animal passages for large carnivores in China, and there is no experience to copy. On the highway where animals may travel, it is not just a flyover or a culvert that is built randomly, and animals will use it. Song Dazhao said that it is necessary to consider the characteristics of the local wild animal population and the actual situation of the habitat to decide what kind of passage to design. This requires more in-depth investigation and research by experts.

Liu Beibei added that some means may be needed to prevent animals from going up the road through other places, such as building some fences, and then using some means to lead leopards to animal passages, such as replanting some bushes and artificially building some animal paths , and add some water or food around, so that leopards get used to walking in culverts.

There is still a lot to consider. For example, in Heshun County, people also walk along the road when driving cattle. Liu Beibei said, if the road is full of fences and culverts, is it possible for people and cattle to walk through the culverts, and will they meet leopards in the animal passage?

Wang Fang also said that when wild animals start to use animal passages, they will face some more realistic management problems. For example, there may be poachers laying animal traps around the animal passages, and wild animals may also be fed or otherwise disturbed around the animal passages. , “If it is not managed properly, it may even become a channel for the spread of infectious diseases.”

In other words, the construction of ecological corridors cannot be done once and for all, and long-term management will be required in the future. Wang Fang said that this includes continuous monitoring of wildlife around the corridor, testing of habitat quality and monitoring of anti-poaching.

Obviously, whether it is the design and construction of ecological corridors, or the subsequent long-term maintenance, a large amount of capital investment is required. In Song Dazhao’s view, the planning and construction of future ecological corridors should be promoted at the national level. “It may be difficult for local governments to do this, whether it is scientific research or capital investment.”

Now, a more urgent and necessary job than building passages that allow wildlife to cross roads is to control the speed of cars in critical wildlife habitat. Guo Zhihong said that the Liupanshan Nature Reserve has been negotiating with the transportation department recently, and after preparation, some eye-catching signs will be erected on the road to remind “animals are infested, slow down”, and on some roads where the speed may be faster, there will be traffic accidents. Install some speed bumps to make it safer for animals to cross the road.



Leave a Reply

Next Post

The future of the original 100-year-old artificial giant panda

Mon Jan 30 , 2023
It is said that the natural lifespan of giant pandas is generally about 30 years old, and 35 years old is equivalent to 105 years old for humans. In the past, it was said that the life span of 70 is rare since ancient times. Now that the living and social […]