LANZHOU, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) -- New footage of a big cat and its dinner has scientists excited about the possible expansion of the rare snow leopard in a state reserve.
A team of wildlife investigators recently got a close-up of a snow leopard eating its prey at the Gansu Qilianshan National Nature Reserve in northwest China's Gansu Province, authorities with the reserve said Tuesday.
Investigators for the second national terrestrial wildlife survey recorded a video of the big cat hunting and feeding. In the video, a dead blue sheep is seen on a rock, and a leopard raises its head after it appears to spot the investigators. It is then shown quickly leaving the sheep while remaining alert in the distance.
It is the first time the rare animal has been photographed by humans on site at Qilianshan. Previously, scientists had to track the animals using their footprints, excrement and infrared cameras to learn about their habits and distribution.
"The discovery is an indication that the leopard population is recovering here," said a staff member at the reserve.
Snow leopards are a Class A protected animal and are usually found in the Himalayan ranges of central and south Asia. They typically live at an altitude of 2,500 to 4,500 meters. The animals have been found in 12 countries and have been spotted in China's Qinghai, Tibet, Xinjiang, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan.
The animal has rarely been seen in the wild this century due to loss of habitat and poaching. There are an estimated 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards living in the wild, in addition to around 650 in captivity worldwide, according to official statistics released in 2015.