Amur Leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis
Leopards are best described as spotted, medium-sized members of the genus Panthera. Similar in appearance to jaguars, leopards have relatively short legs, broad paws and a powerful build.
Amur leopards, called Far Eastern leopards in Russia, are one of the rarest subspecies in nature. They are easily identified by their very large, thickly bordered circular markings as well as clusters of spots called rosettes. Living in cold climates, they also have extremely long hair. Amur leopards have longer legs than other leopards, allowing them to walk in snow with greater ease. Males weigh between 110 and 120 pounds, and females between 65 and 75 pounds. Their body length extends about 5 feet.
The leopard is the most widespread member of the Family Felidae, ranging over much of Africa and Asia. The Amur leopard subspecies is the northernmost of all leopard subspecies. Its range originally extended across northeastern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southern portion of Russia. Today they are only found within a sliver of habitat in Russia along its border with China. A few of these individuals sometimes wander into China.
In the Russian Far East, Amur leopards prefer temperate forest regions of low snowfall vegetated by oaks and pines.
Amur leopards hunt mainly roe and sika deer, hares, badgers, mice, and other small animals.
Like most other cats, leopards are solitary predators that live within an exclusive territory. Male territories of up to 155 square miles are larger and often overlap those of several females; females range over 15 to 38 square miles. Female leopards are mature at three years of age. Breeding can occur year round and after a gestation of 90 days, females give birth to one to three young. It has been reported that some males stay with females after mating and may even help with rearing the young. They live for 10 to 15 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity.
Similar to other leopards, the Amur leopard can run at speeds more than 35 miles per hour. Leopards are excellent climbers. They can scale large trees and are one of only a handful of felids that can climb down a tree headfirst. They are also superb jumpers, able to leap more than 19 feet across and up to 10 feet high.
Amur leopards normally hunt at night and need large territories to avoid competition for prey. They silently watch their prey and ambush them. They then carry and hide unfinished kills, sometimes up trees, so that they are not taken by other predators.
Threats to Survival:
The primary reasons for the Amur leopard’s decline are hunting and loss of habitat. Leopards are hunted for their beautiful spotted fur coats, while subsistence hunters find the cats a nuisance as they compete for sika deer and other prey. Farmers may persecute the cats in retribution for killing livestock. Annual fires, ignited by people to turn forests into grasslands for farming, are probably the greatest threat to leopard habitat. Since the mid-1970s, in addition to these threats, logging, inbreeding and disease, development of natural gas pipelines and road and railway networks, along with mineral extraction have decimated the Amur leopard population. Amur leopards are additionally threatened by the small size of the population: father-daughter and sibling matings have been observed on two occasions. Possibly linked to this interbreeding is the reduced litter size observed in this population between 1973 and 1991 from 1.75 to 1.0 young. This may be linked to genetic factors such as declining fertility or merely demographic fluctuation.
With a wild population of less than 40 individuals, Amur leopards are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered and listed as an Appendix I species on CITES.
An Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) manages the population of Amur leopards in AZA-accredited zoos in North America. In May 2013, an Amur Leopard Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) was convened under the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The GSMP involves four regional zoo associations: AZA in North America, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) in Europe, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Japan, and the Eurasian Regional Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EARAZA) in the Eurasian region
representing the native range of this subspecies. As of 2013, collectively, 92 institutions hold 210 Amur leopards derived from 13 founders and representing 89 percent gene diversity.
Amur Leopard SSP Coordinator & Studbook Keeper
Cynthia Kreider, Erie Zoo
The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) is working hard to reduce threats to Amur leopards in the wild by funding appropriate conservation projects and educating and informing people about the importance of the Amur leopard and tiger. The Amur leopard is probably the only large cat for which a reintroduction program using zoo stock is considered a necessary conservation action with some prospect of taking place in the near future. The releases would take place in or near the Lazovsky Nature Reserve in Southern Sikhote Alin, an area where leopards disappeared approximately 30 years ago. With improved conservation in both Russia and China, we could expect an increase in the present population in the wild from 30 to 40 animals to approximately 80 animals in 15 to 20 years.
Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance, www.altaconservation.org
Amur Leopard Global Species Management Plan, www.waza.org/en/site/conservation/conservation-breeding-programmes/amur-leopard-gsmp