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Amur Leopard : One of the World’s Most Endangered Cats
07/November/2014 (ITNN)>>>> The Amur leopard is a leopard subspecies native to the Primorye region of southeastern Russia and Jilin Province of northeast China, and is classified as Critically Endangered since 1996 by IUCN. Only 14-20 adults and 5-6 cubs were counted in a census in 2007, with a total of 19-26 Amur leopards extant in the wild. The Amur leopard is also known as the Far Eastern leopard.

The Amur leopard is important ecologically, economically and culturally. Conservation of its habitat benefits other species, including Amur tigers and prey species like deer. With the right conservation efforts, we can bring them back and ensure long-term conservation of the region.

Distribution and habitat
The Amur leopard is the only leopard subspecies adapted to a cold snowy climate. Amur leopards used to be found in northeast asia, probably in the south to Peking, and the Korean Peninsula. In the mid 20th century, their distribution in Russia was limited to the far south of the Ussuri region. The northern boundary commenced on the coast of the Sea of Japan at 44°N and ran south at a distance of 15-30 km (9.3-18.6 mi) from the coast to 43°10’N. 

There it turned steeply westward, north of the Suchan basin, then north to encompass the source of the Ussuri River and two right bank tributaries in the upper reaches of the Ussuri. There the boundary turned westward toward the bank of Khanka Lake. In the 1950s, leopards were observed 50 km (31 mi) north of Vladivostok and in Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve. The association of Amur leopards with mountains is fairly definite. They are confined more to places where wild sika deer live or where deer husbandry is practised. In winter they keep to snow-free rocky slopes facing south.

In the 1970s, the Russian population had fragmented into three separate, small populations. After the turn of the century, the only remaining population is that of southwest Primorye, where the population inhabits an area of approximately 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi) along the borders with China and North Korea.

Leopards cross between Russia, China and North Korea across the Tumen River despite a high and long wire fence marking the boundary. Ecological conditions along the border in the mountains are not yet monitored.

In China, Amur leopards were photographed by camera traps in Wangqing and Hunchun, east Jilin Province, China.  The only official North Korean government webportal reported in 2009 that there were some leopards in Myohyangsan Nature Reserve located in Hyangsan County. It is likely the southernmost living group of Amur leopard.

Ecology and behavior
Amur leopards are extremely conservative in their choice of territory. An individual's territory is usually located in a river basin and generally extends to the natural topographical borders of the area. The territory of two individuals may sometimes overlap, but only slightly. Depending on sex, age, and family size, the size of an individual's territory can vary from 5,000-30,000 ha (19-116 sq mi). 

They may use the same hunting trails, routes of constant migration, and even places for extended rest constantly over the course of many years. At places where wild animals are abundant, leopards live permanently or perform only vertical migrations, trailing herds of ungulates and avoiding snow. 

In the Ussuri region the main prey of leopards are roe and sika deer, Manchurian wapiti, musk deer, moose, and wild pig. More rarely they catch hare, badger, fowl, and mice. In Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve roe deer is their main prey year-round, but they also prey on young Eurasian black bears less than two years old. When density of ungulates is low, leopards have large home ranges that can be up to 100 km2 (39 sq mi).

During a study of radio-collared Amur leopards in the early 1990s, a territorial dispute between two males at a deer farm was documented, suggesting that deer farms are favoured habitats. Female leopards with cubs are relatively often found in the proximity of deer farms. The large number of domestic deer is a reliable food source that may help to survive difficult times.

Amur leopards are threatened by poaching, encroaching civilization, new roads, exploitation of forests, and climate change.

Tigers can eliminate leopards if densities of large and medium-sized prey species are low. Competition between these predators supposedly decreases in summer, when small prey species are more available. In winter, conditions are less favorable for tigers and the extent of trophic niche overlap with that of Amur leopards probably reaches its peak.

Illegal Wildlife Trade
The Amur leopard is poached largely for its beautiful, spotted fur. In 1999, an undercover investigation team recovered a female and a male Amur leopard skin, which were being sold for $500 and $1,000 respectively in the village of Barabash, not far from the Kedrovaya Pad reserve in Russia. Agriculture and villages surround the forests where the leopards live. As a result the forests are relatively accessible, making poaching a problem-not only for the leopards themselves, but also for important prey species, such as roe deer, sika deer and hare, which are hunted by the villagers both for food and cash.

Scientific Name
Panthera pardus orientalis
Higher classification
21 year (In captivity)
Gestation period
92 – 95 d
64-78 cm (At Shoulder, Male)
32 - 48 kg (Male)
25 – 42 kg (Female)
0.5 – 0.7 kg (Newborn)

A Safe Haven
Amur leopards received a safe haven in 2012 when the government of Russia declared a new protected area. Called Land of the Leopard National Park, this marked a major effort to save the world’s rarest cat. Extending nearly 650,000 acres it includes all of the Amur leopard’s breeding areas and about 60 percent of the critically endangered cat’s remaining habitat. The park is also home to 10 endangered Amur tigers. WWF lobbied for the establishment of this park in the Russian Far East since 2001.

Protecting Amur Leopard Habitat
This work includes increasing areas of protected land in both Russia and China, reducing illegal and unsustainable logging practices, and facilitating trade between companies committed to responsible forestry practices. 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.

Development projects
A number of plans for economic activities in south-west Primorye were developed that posed a serious threat to the leopard’s survival. A plan to build an oil pipeline from central Siberia through Primorye to the coast of the Sea of Japan has been shelved. A plan for an open pit coal mine in the heart of the leopard range was not carried out following pressure from environmentalists and the Ministry of Natural Resources. 

The strategic location of south-west Primorye, close to the main population centres of Primorski Krai, the Japanese Sea and the borders of Korea and China, makes it more attractive for economic activities including transport, industries, tourism and development of infrastructure. Logging is not a major threat; the use of the road network established for the transport of logs from forests increases anthropogenic pressures in unprotected leopard habitat.

The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) is formed of 15 international and Russian NGOs all working to support conservation of Amur leopards and tigers in the wild. ALTA channels money raised by the international zoo community, public and corporate sponsors to four implementing agencies working to save these magnificent and threatened animals.

Mission Statement
Our mission is to protect the Amur leopard and tiger and their habitat. This can be achieved through :

Educating the public and raising awareness concerning the threats that these big cats face in the wild.

Working in tangent with the scientific community, zoos, international conservation organisations and individuals to raise significant funds to contribute to in situ conservation projects.

We need your help to continue this vital work to give these big cats a future, could you help us?