Washington, October 31 : A team of researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology and Soils (IBS) captured and released a female Far Eastern leopard, the world's most endangered big cat, in Russia last week.
The leopardess, nicknamed "Alyona" by the researchers, was found in Primorsky Krai along the Russian-Chinese border.
She was in good physical condition and weighed a healthy 85 pounds, said the researchers.
A preliminary health analysis suggested that the animal might have been eight to ten years old, they added.
The researchers are presently evaluating the health and potential effects of inbreeding for this tiny population, which experts believe contains no more than 10-15 females.
They will continue to analyse blood samples as well as an electrocardiogram, which can reveal genetic information to assess levels of inbreeding.
Three leopards captured previously in 2006 and 2007, two males and one female, exhibited significant heart murmurs, which might 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. 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," said Dr. Alexey Kostyria, senior scientist at IBS and manager for the WCS-IBS project.
The researchers are said to be considering trans-locating leopards from other areas to increase genetic diversity, something that happened with Florida panthers when animals from Texas were brought in to supplement the remaining population.
Florida panthers have presently risen from less than ten individuals to a population of approximately 100.
"This project has been ongoing for just over two years, and scientific work to capture Amur tigers and Far Eastern leopards in this part of Primorsky Krai has always been distinguished by the participation of world-class specialists and use of the best equipment and methodologies," said Sergei Zubtsov, the head of Inspection Tiger, a special department of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
"I want to note that the leopard captured for medical analysis and released represents another achievement for this highly-qualified team, and that one of the most important things is that she was not harmed at any point in the capture process. I hope that such fruitful collaboration will continue in the future," Zubtsov added.