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Amur Leopard: One of the World's Most Endangered Cats

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Head shot of Amur leopard , Siberia
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The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is one of the world's most endangered cats. It is a solitary, nocturnal leopard that lives in the Amur River basin of eastern Russia. Now extinct from China and the Korean Peninsula, the few leopards that remain are critically endangered, and they are particularly vulnerable to extinction because Amur leopards have the lowest levels of genetic variation of any leopard subspecies.

Appearance:

  • Thick coat with long, dense hair
  • Coat color varies from creamy yellow to rusty orange
  • Rosettes (spots) are more widely spaced with thicker black borders than other leopard subspecies
  • Longer legs than other subspecies, an adaptation that facilitates movement through snow

Size:

Males range in height between 25 to 31 inches at the shoulder, and they weigh between 70 and 120 pounds. Females weigh between 55 and 75 pounds.

Habitat:

  • Temperate forests in mountainous regions
  • South-facing rocky slopes in winter (where less snow accumulates)
  • Individual's territories can range from 19 to 120 square miles, depending upon age, sex, and prey density

Diet:

The Amur leopard is a strictly carnivorous predator that primarily hunts roe and sika deer but will also eat wild boar, Manchurian wapiti, musk deer, and moose. It will opportunistically prey on hares, badgers, raccoon dogs, fowl, mice, and even young Eurasian black bears.

Reproduction:

  • Reproductive maturity occurs between two and three years of age
  • The female estrus period lasts from 12 to 18 days
  • Length of gestation is approximately 90 to 95 days
  • Cubs are born from the end of March through May
  • Cubs weigh a little over one pound at birth and are born with their eyes closed for about a week
  • Cubs begin to crawl about 12 to 15 days after birth
  • Young leopards have been reported to stay with their mother for up to two years

Lifespan:

In captivity, Amur leopards have lived for 21 years.

Geographic Range:

Historically, Amur leopards were found in eastern China, southeastern, and south into the Korean Peninsula.

Today, the few remaining leopards are scattered throughout approximately 1,200 square miles in the area where the borders of Russia, China, and North Korea meet along the Sea of Japan.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, "The last remaining viable wild population, estimated 20-25 individuals, is found in a small area in the Russian Province of Primorsky Krai, between Vladivostok and the Chinese border. In adjacent China, 7-12 scattered individuals are estimated to remain. In South Korea, the last record of an Amur leopard dates back to 1969, when a leopard was captured on the slopes of Odo Mountain, in South Kyongsang Province."

Conservation Status

Critically Endangered (IUCN 1996)

Estimated Population

Approximately 30 to 40 individuals

Population Trend

Decreasing

Causes of Population Decline

Habitat destruction:

Between 1970 and 1983, 80 percent of the Amur leopard's habitat was lost due to logging, forest fires, and agricultural land conversion projects (this loss of habitat also affected the leopard's prey species, which have become increasingly scarce as well).

Human Conflict:

With less wild prey to hunt, leopards have gravitated to deer farms where they have been killed by farmers.

Poaching:

The Amur leopard is illegally hunted for its fur, which is sold on the black market. Habitat loss has made it easier to locate and kill leopards within the past 40 years.

Small Population Size:

The Amur leopard's critically low population is at risk from disease or environmental catastrophes that could wipe out all remaining individuals.

Lack of Genetic Variation:

Because there are so few individual leopards left in the wild, they are subject to inbreeding. Inbred offspring are prone to health problems, including reduced fertility which further reduces the population's chance of survival.

Conservation Efforts

The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) works in close co-operation with local, regional, and federal organizations to protect the region's biological wealth through conservation, sustainable development and local community involvement. They maintain four anti-poaching teams with a total of 15 members in the Amur leopard range, monitor the Amur leopard population through snow track counts and camera trap counts, restore leopard habitat, support ungulate recovery, and run a media campaign to create awareness about the Amur leopard's plight.

The World Wildife Fund (WWF) has established anti-poaching teams and environmental education programs to increase appreciation for the leopard among local communities within the leopard's range. WWF also implements programs to stop the traffic in Amur leopard parts and to increase the population of prey species in the leopard's habitat such as the 2003 Forest Conservation Programme in the Russian Far East Ecoregion Complex.

In 2007, WWF and other conservationists successfully lobbied the Russian government to reroute a planned oil pipeline that would have endangered the leopard's habitat.

As of December 2011, there were 176 captive Amur leopards in zoos worldwide.

How You Can Help

Adopt an Amur Leopard through the World Wildlife Fund to support their efforts to save the Amur leopard from extinction.

Buy an Amur leopard t-shirt to support the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance. All proceeds from sales of these shirts go directly to conservation of Amur leopards and their habitat in the wild.

Purchase an Amur leopard print to support the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (25 to 100 percent of the profits from these prints goes toward Amur leopard conservation, depending on the artist).

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