Endangered Amur tigers and leopards around the border between Siberia and China are losing critical habitat to humans. Their migratory trails cut through the Narvinskii Pass, but in the last 15 years, a four lane highway there engulfed what used to be a little-trafficked gravel road. Now Russia has taken a step to protect these gorgeous at-risk animals.

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The fact that the Narvinskii Pass is so vital to these animals was only discovered a little over 10 years ago by two researchers from the Zoological Society of London. They were collecting samples for DNA analysis and realized that the cats mainly used the Narvinskii Pass to migrate. But the highway was built to connect Siberia with a burgeoning Chinese city, right through the area traveled by the leopards and tigers.

Related: LA lawmakers take steps to create ‘wildlife corridor’ to protect big cats

Tiger specialist Dale Miquelle of the Wildlife Conservation Society said Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff Sergey Ivanov initiated the effort to build a tunnel under the Narvinskii Pass that is one third of a mile long. The tunnel will allow the endangered big cats to go beneath the highway instead of trying to dash across it (caught here on a dash cam).

Tigers, leopards, amur tigers, amur leopards, Russia, Siberia, China, wildlife, endangered species, wildlife corridor, wildlife tunnel, conservation

As the cats travel between Russia and China, it’s hard to get an estimate of just how many there are, but statistics from each country put the number only around 80 leopards. According to World Wildlife Fund, the Amur leopard is critically endangered. Tigers are a little better off, but not much. WWF puts their population numbers close to 540, still low for an endangered animal that needs to be protected.

Back in 2011, Ivanov also set aside 1,100 square miles for a Land of the Leopard National Park. The Russian Academy of Sciences also runs The Far Eastern Leopard Program to research the animals.

Via TakePart

Images via Wikimedia Commons (1,2)