A pair of endangered Amur leopards have been spotted in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin.
It is the first time that field cameras caught two Amur leopards at the same time in Jilin, home to a quarter of all the rarest cats in the world.
One of the reasons for the sighting is an improved habitat for the animals, which are at high risk of extinction.
China established a nature reserve in Hunchun in 2011 to protect Far Eastern big cats like Amur leopards and Siberian tigers.
Photo taken on Oct 8, 2012 shows an endangered Amur leopard in a nature reserve in Hunchun in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin, home to a quarter of all the rarest cats in the world. [Photo/Xinhua]
On Tuesday, Lang Jianmin, education director with the animal conservation bureau in the forest-clad Hunchun City, said, "The two leopards, a male and a female, are very much like lovers."
Lang said the film of the leopards, side by side, was taken on November 16.
"We've hardly seen pictures like these. Amur leopards do not live together unless they are mating. And the honeymoon, once every three years, lasts only about a week," Lang added.
Amur leopards, classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered, are in the highest risk category in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In 2007, IUCN concluded that Amur leopards were extinct in China and only 19 to 26 survived in Russia.
However, the rare scene of the couple, together with a survey released in April shows that the population of Amur leopards has been recovering in China.
The survey, co-conducted by Jilin Provincial Forestry Department (JPFD) and World Wide Fund For Nature, said that the predators are making a comeback as China has improved efforts to protect forests and fight poaching.
Eight Amur leopards, two males and six females, were identified in the survey. Their habitat has grown to 2,064 square kilometers, which is three to four times of that in the late 1990s, according to the survey carried out in Jilin's Changbai Mountains.
Echoing the report, scientists with the Hunchun Nature Reserve said their field cameras spotted Serbian tigers and Amur leopards more than 20 times from August to November.
The recovery of Amur leopards can be attributed to the stabilization of habitat, an effective hunting ban, and support from local residents.
Photo taken on July 18, 2012 shows a wild boar in a nature reserve in Hunchun in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin, home to a quarter of all the rarest cats in the world. [Photo/Xinhua]
Lang, the conservation official, said the number of wild animals like boars, pheasants and deer, has been increasing in the Hunchun Nature Reserve, which fixed the food chain that supports leopards and tigers.
Jilin banned hunting wild animals on the land in 1996. Since then, the provincial authorities has investigated about 1,800 criminal cases against endangered wild animals, detained more than 400 people and jailed 52, said JPFD Deputy Director Qiao Heng in April.
In a bid to gain support from residents living in the predators' habitat, the Jilin provincial government said by the end of 2011, it had spent 38 million yuan (6.1 million US dollars) compensating those injured by protected wild animals.
The animal protection authorities in Jilin promised to expand the nature reserve and improve the monitoring network so that it can provide better information on the animals