Russia Builds Tunnel to Help Endangered Leopards Migrate Safely

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Russia is working hard to save a rare leopard species that lives on its Siberian border with China. The country's government has taken decisive and dramatic action, building an enormous tunnel to reroute traffic away from the leopards, Atlas Obscura reports.

The Amur leopard is critically endangered, so much so that only 70 are known to exist, and 56 of those are struggling to make a life for themselves on a Russian national park called Land of the Leopard. Take Part explains that the Amur leopards are indigenous to Siberia, but in recent years, a vast four-lane highway was constructed across their habitat, interrupting their migration routes and posing a threat to wandering leopards. Officials hope rerouting the highway through the proposed tunnel would leave the big cats a clear path.

An enormous (and likely expensive) construction project, the tunnel is the result of more than a decade of research on the rare leopards. Scientists spent years tracking their migratory habits, gathering information on the elusive animals both for general research purposes and to develop a strategy of conservation.

“[They were] actually out trying to track and collect scat for DNA analysis and noticed animals moving repeatedly across this ridge,” researcher Dale Miquelle told Take Part. “It’s a really good example of how basic scientific research can help define necessary conservation actions. The work was being done for other purposes, but the tunnel was by far the most valuable outcome of that research.”

The 1900-foot-long tunnel, which opened in March, replacing the dangerous highway, is also symbolically important. While similar construction projects, designed to save endangered panthers, have been built in the U.S., the Narvinsky tunnel is a first for Russia. It is also one of the government's first steps towards making the preservation of endangered species a high priority.

“This will be the first ecological tunnel in the Russian Federation,” Sergey Ivanov, the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, explained in a statement. “We have made road traffic safer because now the drivers will have to use a serpentine road to climb on the… mountains on the one hand; on the other hand, wild animals have got free access to a migration route in the national park’s territory.”

[h/t Atlas Obscura]