North China leopard, once on the verge of extinction, has been spotted again in its traditional habitat at the Tuoliang National Nature Reserve in north China's Taihang Mountains Area.
Its return signifies the restoration of the mountain forest ecology in North China, serving as a witness to the efforts made by the local people in improving the ecology.
The return of leopard was accidentally recorded in mid-March this year, when forest rangers were collecting their infrared cameras they installed in the forest.
"This is really a huge surprise," said Li Jianping, deputy director of the Management and Conservation Center of the Tuoliang National Nature Reserve.
The image of North China leopard captured in an infrared camera installed in the forest of the Tuoliang National Nature Reserve in March 2022.
"Look, this is the leopard recorded," An Chunlin, a wildlife expert from the Forestry and Grassland Bureau of Hebei Province, said excitedly, showing to reporters the image of the leopard in the camera. The image shows that the leopard walking cumbersomely and slowly toward the camera, sniffing here and there, and gnashing its teeth sometimes.
Li said that the infrared cameras have captured three North China leopards, two females and one male. This has aroused the attention from all quarters as such leopards have not been seen for years.
"The frequent appearance of the North China leopard shows that the local ecological system is complete, and the biodiversity is rich," said An Chunlin, citing the major food chains of wild boar, roe deer and pheasants, which have become more and more in number thanks to the gradual restoration of the forest vegetation, and they have provided a stable favored ecological system for leopard.
河北省林草局野生动物专家安春林沿着华北豹回归的轨迹，记录驼梁的生态变迁。长城网·冀云客户端记者 乔娅 摄
An Chunlin recording the ecological evolution of the Tuoliang National Nature Reserve. Photo by Qiao Ya/Great Wall New Media.
North China leopard is a species indicative of ecological quality. Its once disappearance showed that its habitat was damaged, the ecological system was deteriorated and its food dwindled and was, therefore, listed as the world class endangered species.
According to Ma Shufeng, chief of the ecological protection and restoration and desertification control division of the Forestry and Grassland Bureau of Hebei Province, the province has since 1986 engaged in a massive greening project on the Taihang Mountains, a project of returning reclaimed land to forests, a Beijing-Tianjin sandstorm control project and a project of improving fruit trees. After more than three decades, the province has raised the forest cover on the mountains from 13.1 percent to 30 percent and opened up the ecological corridor that had been cut up along the foot of the Taihang Mountains.
河北省林草局野生动物专家安春林（右）和河北驼梁国家级自然保护区管护中心副主任李剑平一起在密林深处寻找华北豹踪迹。长城网·冀云客户端记者 郑佳洵 摄
An Chunlin (Right) and Li Jianping searching for the traces of North China leopard deep in the forest. Photo by Zheng Jiaxun/Great Wall New Media.
Since 2020, the province has carried out a survey of the North China leopard population and habits, covering the number, living density, distribution and habitats. The survey has provided a reliable basis for formulating a plan for effective restoration and protection of the population and habitats. In addition, the province has launched a series of monitoring and protecting project in Shijiazhuang, Qinhuangdao and Chengde, where leopards are distributed.
"The statistical data from the infrared camera monitoring show that in the Tuoliang National Natural Reserve there are a total of 227 vertebrates, accounting for 45.9 percent of the provincial total, and 1,187 plant species of higher order, accounting for 50.5 percent of the provincial total. The enrichment and the increase in the number of biotic populations have provided the basic conditions for the return of North China leopard," said Li Jianping.