Is the North Chinese leopard getting a new name?
Xing Fangyu
When an animal bears a country's name, it could help distinguish it from other subspecies. But the North Chinese leopard may lose its uniqueness by being subsumed by its northern neighbor, the Amur leopard. 
The North Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis) are graceful and powerful big cats that roam the mountains and forests of northern China, an area that's south of the Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis). However, because there's no biogeographical barrier between these two leopards, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group subsumed japonensis to orientalis in 2017.
But the new classification remains controversial due to the lack of molecular level evidence. 
Despite their habitats being close to each other, these two big cats are varied in their fur and body size. The North Chinese leopard has tan skin, while the Amur leopard's thick fur is cream-colored, especially in winter. The body length of the North Chinese leopard is about 170 cm to 210 cm, and the Amur leopard measures 180 cm to 240 cm.
The Amur leopard. /VCG Photo

The Amur leopard. /VCG Photo

However, some people don't like the new classification. The Amur leopard is a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List with only 84 adults and 19 cubs in the wild. If the North Chinese leopards are included in it, the Amur leopard may become an endangered species. 
The new classification may have some impact on Amur leopard conservation and vice versa for the North Chinese leopard.  
The number of the North Chinese leopard is unclear due to insufficient data. In 2018, Chinese researchers announced that they had identified two habitats of the North Chinese leopard in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. 
According to the researcher Feng Limin, the Ziwuling forest region in Shaanxi Province, where 28 leopards were recorded, is the most densely populated region for the leopard.
As the top predator in Shannxi, the leopard's competitors like tigers, wolfs, and black bears barely exist. But the last time the North Chinese leopard was recorded in Beijing was in 2005. 
The animal's main threats are conflicts between humans and animal; poaching for wildlife trade, habitat loss or fragmentation and low prey numbers. Some people worry the new classification may influence the protection work for the North Chinese leopard. 
The North Chinese leopard. /VCG Photo

The North Chinese leopard. /VCG Photo

But according to Feng Limin, the amendment is temporary and might change after the molecular level study is complete. His project in the Ziwuling forest region is also ongoing.
“The result of amendment won't have impacts on the protection work,” said Feng, “after all the protection does not depend on promotion but the policies and front-line staffs. They will continue their daily monitor and protection work in these reserves.” 
Leopards are the most geographically widespread of all cats but the number of global leopards is declining. 
(Cover image via VCG)
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