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By resolution of the government of the Russian Federation, the Land of the Leopard National Park was established on 262 thousand hectares in the southwest of Primorsky Province in Russia's Far East

This single protected territory has the capacity to support the survival of at least 50 Far Eastern leopards and covers 60% of its remaining habitat, including all the sub-species' known breeding grounds, which the leopards use from generation to generation.

The area to be covered by the national park is also home to 10 Amur tigers, which are key for the connected Changbaishan population in China.

In the past 20 years, Amur leopard habitat has almost halved. The population has become critically low, numbering as few as 35 animals", says WWF-Russia CEO Igor Chestin. "We are happy that one of the key measures listed in the official Amur Leopard Conservation Strategy - the creation of a unified reserve for its conservation - has now been implemented".

The park will have a joint administration with the Kedrovaya Pad strict nature reserve. The government decision is accompanied by significant investment - 40 million Rubles (about $1.3 million) are designated to the annual maintenance of the national park, and around half a billion Rubles ($16.6 million) are designated for the development of its infrastructure.

The national park will include several zones. The strictly protected zone covers around 30 thousand ha of the most important habitat areas on the Borisovskoe Plateau. More than 120 thousand ha along the Russia-China border will have a special management regime aimed at protecting not only the leopard but also the state border.

Access to this zone will only be allowed by special permits. All farmlands, lands around towns and military territories will be included in the economic development zone (38 thousand ha), and private ownership of such areas will not be altered. The remaining forest areas (72 thousand ha) are included in the recreational zone, where development of eco-tourism is planned.

The Amur branch of WWF today celebrated this unprecedented win. Twelve years of grueling work have ended with this successful establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park.

"Creation of the national park has only been possible through the active cooperation of the Primorsky Province government, the Ministry of natural resources and environment of the Russian Federation, and other state agencies, which have all helped to implement the Prime Minister's order in such a short time", says Igor Chestin.

"In 2001, WWF began a phased program for the establishment of a unified protected territory as the primary condition for the survival of the Amur leopard", says director of the Amur branch of WWF, Yuri Darman. "Our public campaign received the support of government leaders at the highest level. Vice-minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Ivanov took on personal responsibility for the conservation of the Amur leopard and the establishment of the national park. We'd like to offer him a warm 'thank you' from man and wildlife alike."

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Jo Sargent
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