Since the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) lives in the temperate forests of Far East Russia, there are constant weather changes, which force the species to adapt to their environment. Unlike most big cats, the Amur leopard’s coat changes length when the seasons shift. In the snowy winters, the coat becomes lighter and almost two inches longer, and in the summer, the coat becomes more vibrant and shorter. Because of their snowy habitat, Amur leopards have longer legs. They are known for their unique rosette patterns (see Figure 1), which are unusually thicker and more widespread than the African leopard. Their thicker fur and bulky body shape makes them 60% heavier than African leopards.
Similar to the African leopard, Amur leopards are solitary and extremely careful about the food that they kill. Both Amur and African leopards hunt their prey alone and hide their half-eaten meals in trees or shrubs. The leopard is one of the only big cats in the world that can climb up high trees, which makes it a very effective strategy for saving food. Most leopards live for 10-15 years, which is around the lifespan of a dog. In captivity, Amur leopards can live up to 20 years. Both leopards have large skulls and powerful jaws. They also have strong nigh-vision, which allows them to hunt when it’s dark.
The Amur leopard is not only the most endangered subspecies of leopard but also the rarest big cat in the world. Amur leopards are hunted for their coats and bones. They are labeled Critically Endangered on the IUCN conservation scale, which basically means “almost extinct.” In 2007, only 30 Amur leopards lived in the wild, but now, the population has more than doubled to around 70.
Because of the increased amount of agriculture near the temperate forests of Russia and China, which limits the range of the Amur leopard, many people can easily find and poach many different species. When deer and other small prey of the Amur leopard’s habitat are killed, the Amur leopard has less food, which makes it more difficult for them to raise cubs. When there is little wild prey, the leopards turn to the livestock of the farmers, and more often then not, the farmers are not pleased.
Before the Amur Leopard became Critically Endangered, it was distributed throughout North and South Korea, Northeastern China, and Southeastern Russia. As of now, however, Amur leopards are only found in a 5,000 km range, and scientists estimate that 80% of the Amur leopard’s land was lost. The Land of the Leopard conservation park takes up 60% of the Amur leopard’s habitat. It was established in 2012, and now it is vital for the protection of the leopards against forest fires, poaching, and habitat loss.
Yury Darman, head of the WWF Russia Amur Conservation Branch, confirms that “the national park became the main organizational force for leopard protection and research.”
Amur leopards can only produce young for three years, and because there are so few leopards left in the wild, there is less genetic variety, which causes the species to be prone to more illness and disease.
Even though there are less than 100 Amur leopards left in the wild, it is important to stay optimistic about their situation. The Amur tigers, for example, were down to 40 individuals in the 1940s, but with extreme conservation efforts, the population increased to 540. Hopefully in the coming years, the Amur leopard will not only have survived extinction, but will have multiplied throughout Eastern Asia and gained the awareness and support of many people around the globe.
Help save the Amur leopard by spreading awareness, supporting conservation efforts, and symbolically adopting an Amur leopard here:
Another way you can help is by purchasing FSC approved wood products to help the forests near the Amur river stay full of wildlife.
Amur Leopard Fun Facts:
-The Amur leopard can jump 10 feet vertically and 19 feet horizontally
-The Amur leopard is also called the “Korean Leopard”
-The Amur leopard can run up to 37 miles per hour (about 60 kph)