found at www.amur.org.uk/leopards/
The Amur (far eastern) leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis, is the rarest big cat in the world and yet is still a relatively unknown species of leopard outside of its homeland in Russia. The approximate population stands at about 35 individuals remaining in the wild. Until about 14 years ago very little conservation work had been carried out but in the past few years some major initiatives have been set up to try to save these animals.
Amur leopard walking towards a camera trapThe Amur leopard is recognizable by longer fur for winter warmth, a very ‘bushy’ tail and ‘open’ rosettes characterize its coat. Anyone who has seen an Amur leopard, either in the wild or in captivity, will tell you it is an incredibly beautiful animal.In spite of their relatively small size leopards can carry three times their own weight up a tree. This is to ensure other, larger predators do not steal their food. n the wild leopards live for between 10-15 years but may live to 20 years in captivity. The main prey species of the Amur leopard are roe and sika deer along with hares and badgers.
Distribution and Habitat
In the early 1970s there were three populations; Sikhote-Alin Mountains, southwest of Lake Khanka and the southern most tip of the Russian Far East along the borders with China in the Khasan Region of Primorsky Krai. The first two isolated populations become extinct in the 1980s but the population in Primorsky Krai appears to be small but stable.However, in 2010, researchers sighted a male Amur leopard in the Hunchun Tiger and Leopard Reserve . It was the first confirmed sighting of a leopard in China but it is currently unknown how big this population is and whether it is continuous with the population in Primorsky Krai. None-the-less it is still positive news.The Russian Far East is covered in mixed forests of Korean pine, black fir and broad-leaves in mountainous areas and temperatures can drop to as low as -40°C with hot summers. The leopards move to the warmest part of their habitat where the snow is only between 10 and 15cm deep, although they can tolerate depths of 30-40cm.
Females have exclusive territories of 40-100km2 while males have overlapping territories in the region of 300km2. They come together only for mating from the ages of 3-4 years.Amur leopards can have cubs all year round but there is a peak breeding during the late winter months/early spring. Females give birth to up to 4 cubs after 3 – 3.5 months but normally only 1-2 cubs survive the first few weeks.Like other big cat species, Amur leopard cubs leave their mother at 18-24 months.
Amur leopardBecause the Amur leopard population is so small there is a great risk of extinction which could be caused by any one of the following threats:
• Loss of habitat – the leopard lives in an area of Primorski Krai called Khasan which covers about 3,000 km2. The forest habitat is reducing in size due to logging activities but more importantly due to the careless burning of the forest. In some areas now the forest has been reduced to a black charcoal landscape.
• Poaching – poaching of both the leopards and their prey is a serious threat. In some years we know that up to five individuals have been lost due to the skins that are confiscated. This level of poaching is extremely dangerous for the remaining population and if it goes on at these levels the leopard will become extinct in the near future. Anti-poaching teams are working hard but we need more men and more equipment. The leopard skins are sold and their internal parts go to China for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It must be noted that the majority of TCM practioners do not encourage the use of endangered species as remedies.
• Depletion of prey base – the deer and other animals that leopards feed on are being depleted by illegal hunting. In addition Chinese hunters are coming across the border to poison the rivers to collect frogs and to collect other wildlife and this ultimately has a threat on the health of the whole eco-system.
• Economic Development – in 2005 the last remaining area where leopards live was threatened with the development of a new coal mine and a new oil pipeline. Luckily the Russian Government decided in 2006 that the proposed oil pipeline would NOT go through the leopard territory which was wonderful news for all the conservationists who have worked so hard to protect these big cats. In 2007 a new threat loomed – the upgrading of major roads in the area. In the summer of 2007 it was agreed that tunnels will be created under the new major road so that not only the leopards but other animals can cross safely. Economic development will always be a threat but hopefully these decisions have set a precedent.
• Disease – As with all small populations, the risk of extinction due to disease is greater. Any disease or serious health issues may wipe out the entire remaining wild Amur leopard population. Inbreeding may lead to genetic defects and/or weakened immune systems, which makes animals more vulnerable and prone to disease