Endangered Species: The Amur leopard
Thursday, October 3, 2013, 2:32 PM
This article was written in partnership with the Amur Tiger and Leopard Alliance (ALTA), a coalition of 15 international and Russian NGOs. These funding and implementing agencies have been co-operating for many years in developing, financing and implementing conservation projects in Russia and China, all aimed at preserving the Amur leopard and tiger. More information can be found on the ALTA website.
The Amur, or Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is one of the eight subspecies of leopard. It is only found in the Russian Far East and North East China and there are fewer than 40 individuals left in the wild, making it one of the world’s most endangered big cats. For this reason, it is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
Amur leopards live in the temperate forests of Far Eastern Russia, experiencing harsh winters with extreme cold and deep snow, as well as hot summers.
The species is adapted to a cool climate and has thick fur which grows up to 7.5 cm long in winter. Their coat is paler than other leopard subspecies, and turns lighter during the winter months to allow for camouflage in the snow. Males generally weigh 32-48 kg, but can weigh up to 75 kg. Females are smaller than the males at 25-43 kg.
In the wild, they typically live for 10-15 years and they may reach 20 years in captivity.
The Amur leopard is the northernmost of all leopard subspecies. Its historic range extended throughout northeastern (“Manchurian”) China, the southern part of Primorsky Krai in Russia and the Korean Peninsula. This range shrank dramatically during the 20th century, due primarily to habitat loss due to human activity and hunting.
There are various reasons the Amur leopard population is shrinking, but all can be tied back to man.
Some of the main threats to the survival of this species are:
- Forest fires
- Lack of political commitment
Illegal poaching is another major cause for concern.
Amur leopards are targeted for their striking, spotted coat, which can sell for up to $1,000 in parts of southeastern Russia. With less than 40 individuals remaining in the wild, the death of one leopard can have severe consequences for the species as a whole.
Various organizations, including ALTA, are working hard to reduce these threats by funding appropriate conservation projects and educating and informing people about the importance of the Amur leopard and tiger.
There are approximately 200 Amur leopards in captivity, mostly in zoos in Europe, North America and countries of the former Soviet Union. Most, but not all, of these leopards are in zoos participating in managed conservation breeding programs.
For now, it is a race against time to save this incredible species. You can do you part by donating to a reputable organization like ALTA.