For the first time in history, a camera trap has recorded the sounds of the critically endangered Amur leopard in the wild.
Shot in October, the footage captured seven-year-old male Amur leopard named Typhoon making a territorial call in Russia’s Land of the Leopard protected area. There are fewer than a hundred of the big cats left on Earth.
“This was filmed in one of the main spots that leopards visit, which is high on a ridge,” said Ivan Rakov, a spokesperson for Land of the Leopard National Park and Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve, a combined protected area in the Russian Far East.
There are 300 camera traps scattered throughout Land of the Leopard—the most of any other protected area in Russia. Only in 2016 did the park install technology that records sound. (Learn more about learning to live with leopards from the magazine.)
“He is at the peak of his form,” Rakov says of Typhoon. “He climbs up there like on a throne, and his calls can be audible for large distances all around.”
The video isn't just cool to listen to—it can help conservationists gather data on the rare big cat.
For instance, because Typhoon is calm and lies down after roaring in the video, Rakov says that suggests “leopards usually vocalize when they feel relaxed."
Typhoon is the only resident male in the 45,000-acre Kedrovaya Pad reserve, and lives there with several females. While females’ territories can overlap, males are more protective of their domain—hence the territorial call in the video.
This type of vocalization, also called "sawing," can reduce physical confrontations between male leopards, says Dale Miquelle, director of the Russia program at Wildlife Conservation Society. (Read more about incredible animal sounds you have to hear to believe.)
It's also extremely distinctive, and can't be confused with other cats living in the Land of the Leopard, including Siberian, or Amur, tigers, Miquelle says.
The reserve's scientists were "incredibly lucky” to catch Typhoon's sounds and get him on film, he adds.
“There aren’t many people who have heard Amur leopards sawing in the wild, so to have this on video is quite special."
Leopards also have separate calls used during mating season and for communicating with cubs.
Leopard on the Rebound?
The rarest of the leopard subspecies, the Amur historically roamed the entire Korean Peninsula and parts of China and Russia. Hunting and habitat loss have shrunk their range to a small area straddling the Russian-Chinese border, of which the nature reserve is a part.
The Land of the Leopard managed to more than double their leopard numbers within the past decade by boosting the number of hoofed prey animals and introducing anti-poaching measures, according to Rakov. (Read how a dog mom protects an Amur leopard from cannibalism.)
The Amur leopard population has now climbed to 70 in the park alone, but the goal is to bring the figure to 150.
“This year there are also 15 new cubs, though we are not counting them yet since we have to wait and see how many survive," Rakov says.