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Amur Leopard: Why is it Endangered?

Amur Leopards are a subspecies of leopard that lives in the Amur River region of Russia, North Korea, and China. They’re less than 500 left in the wild!

Amur Leopard populations have been declining for decades because they’ve lost their habitat to logging and farming. The Amur leopard is also hunted by poachers who sell its fur on the black market.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect Amur Leopard habitats and stop poaching. Organizations like WWF work with local communities to promote sustainable livelihoods that don’t rely on hunting or logging. You can help too by donating to conservation organizations like WWF or Wildlife Alliance today!

  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Known as: Amur Leopard, Manchurian Leopard, Far Eastern Leopard, Korean Leopard.
  • Amur Leopard Population: 19 to 26.

Description of Amur Leopard

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is superficially similar to other leopards, but has some traits unique to the subspecies, too.

A male Amur leopard is 107 to 136 centimeters long. Weight varies by sex – females weigh 25 to 43 kilograms, with males slightly heavier at 32 to 48 kilograms.

Exceptional individuals can range as high as 75 kilograms. This leopard subspecies has exceptionally thick, luxuriant fur that can be as much as 7 centimeters long in winter. Its rosettes are strongly marked and widely spaced, and its color is pale is winter, reddish in summer.

The leopard’s legs are also longer than typical leopards, an adaptation to a snowy habitat.

Face of an Amur Leopard

Distribution and habitat

The Amur leopard inhabits a land area of nearly 7,000 km 2 (2700 sq. m.) in the Russian Far East. It is well equipped to endure chilly weather and snowfall.

Despite extensive and tall wire fencing, leopards straddle the Tumen River between Japan, China, and Russia.

In 2010, a Leopard was recorded in Hunchun National Nature Reserve in Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces for the first time.

Elsewhere in North East China, leopard range is divided up, with smaller populations discovered in isolated regions. In response to video captures, leopards have been observed utilizing the camouflage trap in 16 designated areas in the Amur and Ussuri River valleys.

Although Amur leopards can climb trees, they spend most of their time on the ground, especially at night or during bad weather. Amur leopards are mainly solitary, although several individuals may share a common territory when there is abundant prey.

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Hunting

Amur Leopard Drinking Water

The Amur leopard is an opportunistic predator. It preys on small and medium-sized prey, such as wild pigs and roe deer, and occasionally ventures into the mountains to hunt Siberian ibexes and hares.

The Amur leopards also feed on the Manchurian wapiti that they recently re-introduced into the Amur River Valley in the Russian Far East.

Amur leopards are nocturnal hunters. Manchurian wapitis, which occasionally stampede through their territory, are one of the most common causes of death among Amur leopards; however, they will also attack Amur leopards when the bigger cats invade their range.

The Amur leopard is dependent on Sika deer and roe deer for its main food supply, though it will take other animals as opportunity permits, including wild boar, moose, badgers, hares, Manchurian wapiti, game birds, and even mice.

The leopard is a solitary hunter that ventures out under cover of darkness, though males and females apparently pair up and cooperate during breeding season, possibly raising their cubs together before taking their separate ways again.

Hunting is typically done with a suffocating bite to the throat or strangulation via neck bite.

Prey is carried off and cached to keep it safe from competitors. This cold-adapted leopard lives for a decade to a decade and a half in the wild, and remains fertile to the end of its life.

Historical range

Amur Leopard Standing on the Tree
Ruud van Unen, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Amur leopard formerly roamed throughout eastern Siberia north of Beijing, as well as the mountains to the northeast and Korea.

It formerly covered Manchuria in North East China, including Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces.

The range of the leopard has shrunk significantly in recent years, with about 20% reduction from its previous spread. For decades, leopards were despised in the Korean Peninsula by Nazi authorities.

Leopard fossils have been found throughout Japan during the Pleistocene, but the species remains unknown. Only minor and isolated groups continue to exist in North East China today and the most suitable habitat is currently in the Russian Far East.

Location

Jilin China Mountain
大漠1208, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, the wild Amur leopard’s range is limited to a tiny area in Eastern Russia in a province called Primorye near North Korea, as well as the adjacent Jilin Province of China.

The animal’s situation in North Korea is unknown.

Amur leopards live in river basins in mountainous areas, and favor southern-facing slopes during the winter.

Ecology and behavior

They are quite cautious in selecting their own territory. Leopards prefer living in areas where wild animals are common. They migrate with ungulate herds.

The principal prey in the southwestern Ussuri region are Siberian roe deer, Manchurian sika deer, Amur moose, and Amur wild boar. Despite the fact that Siberian tigers live in close proximity to Amur leopards and Amur tigers, more of them have been recorded in the Changbai Mountains.

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Characteristics

Amur Leopard Watching

The Amur leopard is distinguished by its thick fur, which is pale cream-colored in winter. Winter coat varies from somewhat light yellow to dense golden tinge or ruddy-reddish-yellow in color.

Males range from 107 to 136 cm (42–30 ft), with a tail length of 82 cm (3–35 in); shoulder height is 64 : 78 cm (4.4 ft); and they weigh between 30 and 60 kg (40 and 110 lb). The paws of the Amur leopard are larger than those of other leopards, thus making them better adapted to the deep snow of the harsh Siberian winters.

Amur leopards have been recorded as reaching speeds of up to 58 kilometers per hour (36 mph).

The Amur leopard’s coat is also thicker and longer than that of other subspecies, a feature that has been attributed to their lowland habitat of temperate forests.

Amur Leopard Facts

The Amur leopard are a fascinating species, here are some facts about Amur leopards to help you learn about the difference between amur leopards, amur tigers and other leopard subspecies:

  • Amur leopards live for a decade to a decade and half in the wild, and remains fertile throughout their life.
  • Amur Leopard populations have been declining for decades because they’ve lost their habitat to logging and farming.
  • Amur Leopards are also hunted by poachers who sell its fur on the black market.
  • Amur Leopards has exceptionally luxuriant, thick fur that can be as much as 7 centimeters long in winter.
  • The Amur leopard’s habitat can support many more of the animals than it currently does. China’s largest suitable area may accommodate more than 70 individuals, while Russia’s biggest could handle around 120 Amur leopards.
  • The Amur leopard is a highly protected species in Russia, where hunters face fines up to 1,100,000 rubles and imprisonment for two years for killing an Amur leopard. It is illegal to store, transport, or sell their remains. The penalty may be as much as 1 million rubles and 2 years in jail if the crime is committed by a group of people.
  • This critically endangered species is one of the world’s rarest big cats.

These Amur leopard facts are important because it truly shows how extraordinary these species are.

Why are Amur leopards so important?

Amur leopards are the top predator in their ecosystem, and as a result they helped maintain the species ratio in their region. Amur leopards hunt prey living in their ecosystem and without these leopards, the populations of their prey will skyrocket causing further disruption surround ecosystems.

And all of this has an impact on a bigger number of forests and their environments, including food, water, and other resources that support local wildlife and people.

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Conservation of Amur Leopard

There have been several conservation efforts of the Amur leopard, we’ll cover the captive bred Amur leopards efforts, threats and organizations focused on preserving the world’s rarest cat.

Amur Leopards in Captivity

Amur Leopard Sitting in Captive
Marie Hale, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1961, a captive breeding program was begun from nine wild-born founders. At least two former members of the captive Pedigree were believed to be missing genetic material that didn’t match those of wild-born Amur Leopards.

In December 2011, 173 Amur leopards were kept in captivity around the world. There is a European program for critically endangered species that has 52 males, 40 females, and 7 non-SX individuals.

Another 31 males and 41 females have been held captive in Australian and Canadian zoos under a Population Management Program.

Threats

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is threatened by its own genetics as well as the activities of humans, who poach these great cats and disturb or reinforce habitat loss.

The subspecies is so limited in numbers that inbreeding is a serious threat that could result in the animals’ extinction even without additional human interference.

Dwindling survival of young Amur leopards may be due to several generations of inbreeding as well as breeding seasonality.

Humans are contributing strongly to the endangered status of these leopards also. The leopards may attack the Sika deer in deer parks, leading to the owners of these establishments shooting them.

These big cats are also poached for their magnificent hides. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are affecting the subspecies’ chances for survival, as is competition for prey animals from hunters.

Conservation efforts

The World Wildlife Fund and other conservation organizations have been working with the Russian government and with local programs to attempt preservation of this intriguing leopard subspecies.

Lobbying has successfully stopped pipeline plans and mining plans which would have destroyed leopard habitat.

Reintroduction is also a possibility, supported by a captive population considerably larger than the current wild population.

Efforts are also underway to bolster the numbers of critical prey species.

Stand Against Poaching and Trade

Amur Leopard Standing in Captive

The World Wildlife Fund is involved in anti-poaching efforts in all of the wild Amur leopards known range areas in northeastern China, as well as throughout all of the Russian Far East’s Amur leopard habitat. WWF runs projects to prevent Amur leopard parts from being illegally exported.

The species is protected under CITES Appendix I, which prohibits commercial trade. However, Amur leopards are also protected by national legislation in all countries where they still reside.

Poaching remains a significant problem for the entire leopard population around the world.

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Organizations

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is the world’s most endangered big cat. It lives in Russia, China and North Korea with less than 500 left in the wild.

The Amur leopard is threatened by its own genetics as well as human activities including poaching, habitat destruction and fragmentation; competition for prey animals from hunters; and their limited numbers that could result in the animal’s extinction without any other interference.

Conservation projects and efforts include lobbying to stop pipeline plans and mining plans which would prevent habitat loss, reintroducing captive populations into the wild, bolstering critical prey species numbers, running projects to prevent destroying their habitat and endangered big cats.

Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance

Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) consist of 14 international and Russian non-governmental organizations who work to conserve Amur Leopards and reintroduce them to the wild by finding a suitable habitat to live and hunt.

Wildlife Conservation Society

Wildlife Conservation Society Logo

The WCS was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats.

This organization has five zoos in New York.

WildCats Conservation Alliance

WildCats Conservation Alliance Logo

The goal of the WildCats Conservation Alliance is to protect tigers and Amur leopards by financing carefully chosen conservation projects. According to most recent census data, there are less than 100 Amur leopards remaining in the wild.

The WildCats Conservation Alliance is working with wildlife conservation partners from Nepal to China in Sumatra to assure wild cats can prosper for long term. Explore their conservation projects learn more about the Amur tiger, tiger species and other leopards. Or, take part in one of their beautiful art galleries.

Proceeds will go to helping conserve these tigers and leopards with extremely small populations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an Amur leopard?

Amur Leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) are a subspecies of leopard that lives in the Amur River region of Russia, North Korea, and China. There are less than 500 left in the wild!

Amur leopards are classified as endangered because it is estimated that there are only 39-46 of them, making them one of the rarest animals in the world.

Four Amur Leopards were released into the wild after being rescued from captivity. In addition to losing their habitat, they might experience a low reproductive They have been hunted extensively by humans and there is a high probability they will become extinct unless conservation efforts begin soon.

Where does the Amur leopard live?

The Amur leopard is the only existing subspecies of spotted leopard. It mostly inhabits the forested areas along the middle and lower reaches of the Amur River in eastern Russia, but it can also be found in northeast China and North Korea.

Why is the Amur leopard endangered?

Amur Leopards live in the Amur river region of Southeastern Russia, North Korea and China. They’re endangered because they can’t adapt to new changes due to increased human population around their lands such as railroads and pipelines. Sadly, there’s the Amur leopard population is down to less than 100 in the entire world.

Why is the Amur leopard going extinct?

One of the main threats to Amur leopards is their habitat shrinking and getting covered in farmland. These tiny population of leopards also face threats from poaching and getting hit by trains. Amur leopards are a critically endangered species, and we must do everything we can to save them!

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