Due to extensive habitat loss and conflict with humans, the situation concerning the Amur leopard is critical. However, the fact that its more eminent cousin – the Amur tiger – recovered from a precarious state of fewer than 40 individuals some 60-70 years ago gives conservationists hope. It is believed that the Amur leopard can be saved from extinction if the present conservation initiatives are implemented, enhanced and sustained.
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Amur leopard, Far East leopard, Manchurian leopard, Korean leopard; Léopard d'Amur (Fr); (Sp)
IUCN: Critically Endangered C2a(ii)read more
Panthera pardus orientalis
About 7-12 in China and 20-25 in Russia
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However, in the northernmost part of its range, a rare subspecies of this cat lives in the temperate forests and harsh winters of the Russian Far East. This is the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis). It is also known as the Far East leopard, the Manchurian leopard or the Korean leopard.
IUCN's 2000 Red List of Threatened Species classifies the subspecies as Critically Endangered, and the CITES has listed it on Appendix I.
The Amur leopard has some very distinguishing features. The hairs of its summer pelt are 2.5 cm long but in winter they are replaced by 7 cm long ones.
Apart from its long winter coat, which is a light colour in the winter, and more reddish-yellow in the summer, the Amur leopard is easily told apart from other leopard subspecies by its widely spaced rosettes with thick borders. It also has longer legs, probably an adaptation for walking through snow.
Adult males weight around 32-48 kg, and exceptionally large males weigh up to 75 kg. Females typically weigh 25-43 kg.
The Amur leopard is a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.
The Amur leopard is habitually nocturnal and solitary. Nimble-footed and strong, it carries and hides unfinished kills so that they are not taken by other predators. However, it has been reported that some males stay with females after mating, and may even help with rearing the young. Several males sometimes follow and fight over a female.
The Amur leopard attains sexual maturity at three years, is known to live for 10-15 years, and in captivity up to 20 years.
The species breeds in spring and early summer. The litter size ranges from 1 to 4 cubs. The cubs are weaned when they are three months old, and leave their mother when they are one-and-a-half to two years old.
What do they eat?
The main prey species are roe deer and sika deers, small wild boars, along with hares, badgers and raccoon dogs.
- Major habitat type
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
- Biogeographic realm
- Range States
Russia, China, probably North Korea
- Geographical Location
South of the Far East-Primorskii Province (Russian Far East), Jilin, Heilongjiang Provinces (Northern China).
- Ecological Region
Russian Far East Temperate Forests
View Amur leopard distribution in a larger map
The distribution of the Amur leopard has been reduced to a fraction of its original range. It once extended throughout northeastern ("Manchurian") China, including Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces, and throughout the Korean Peninsula. The species range in Russia was dramatically reduced during the seventies, losing about 80% of its former range.
Current population and distribution
Today, the Amur leopard inhabits about 5,000 km². The last remaining viable wild population, estimated at 57 individuals, is found in a small area in the Russian Province of Primorsky Krai, between Vladivostok and the Chinese border.
In adjacent China, 7-12 scattered individuals are estimated to remain. In South Korea, the last record of an Amur leopard dates back to 1969, when a leopard was captured on the slopes of Odo Mountain, in South Kyongsang Province.
The Amur leopard's habitat is part of the Amur-Heilong region, which is a WWF global priority region.
It is estimated that between 1970-1983, the Amur leopard lost an astonishing 80% of its former territory. Indiscriminate logging, forest fires and land conversion for farming are the main causes.
Still all is not lost. Even now large tracts of forest, which are ideal leopard habitat exist. If these areas can be protected from unsustainable logging, rampant forest fires and poaching of wildlife, the chance exists to increase the population of the subspecies in the wild.
Find out more about habitat loss
There are still large tracts of suitable habitat left in China, but the prey base in these forests is insufficient to sustain populations of leopards and tigers. Prey populations will recover if the use of the forests by the local population is regulated and if measures are taken to limit the poaching of ungulates. For the Amur leopard to survive for the long term, it needs to repopulate its former range. But for that to happen, prey populations need to recover first.
Poaching and illegal 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 US$ 500 and US$ 1,000 respectively, in the village of Barabash, not far from the Kedrovaya Pad reserve. This suggests that there is a market for such products within the locality itself.
Agriculture and villages surround the forests where the leopards live. As a result the forests are relatively accessible, making poaching a bigger problem than elsewhere. 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 hard cash.
Find out more about wildlife trade
Conflict with humans
Amur leopards are particularly vulnerable because of their preference for deer, a natural predatory preference but dangerous in the Russian Far East due to direct human involvement: farmers in the Russian Far East raise deer for human consumption, and to produce antlers for the Asian medicine market.
In absence of wild prey, the leopards often venture into the deer farms in search for food. Owners of these farms are quick to protect their investment by eliminating leopards attacking their stock. Presently, the leopard's most immediate threat comes from such retaliatory or preventive killing.
Find out more about human-wildlife conflict
Vulnerable population size and inbreeding
Additionally, the Amur leopard is threatened by the extremely small wild population size, which makes them vulnerable to "catastrophes" such as fire or disease, to chance variation in birth and death rates and sex ratios (e.g., all cubs born for two years might be male), and to inbreeding depression.
Father-daughter and sibling matings have been observed and it is possible that this may lead to genetic problems including reduced fertility. Such matings do of course occur naturally to a certain extent in large cat populations, but in a very small population there is no possibility of subsequent outbreeding. Studies have shown that the number of cubs per adult female fell to 1 in 1991 from 1.9 in 1973.
What is WWF doing?
WWF implements programmes to stop the traffic in Amur leopard parts and to increase the population of prey ungulate (hoofed) species in the leopard's habitat. WWF staff continue to monitor the Amur leopard population and its habitat.
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.
WWF projects that support this work include:
- Forest Conservation Programme in the Russian Far East Ecoregion Complex
- Adopt an Amur leopard from WWF-US or WWF-UK and support our work to secure its habitat, establish anti-poaching teams and develop environmental education programs that showcase the animal’s importance to the region.
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Did you know?
- The Amur leopard has been reported to leap more than 6 m horizontally and more than 3 m vertically.
- The Amur leopard attains sexual maturity at 3 years, is known to live for 10-15 years, and in captivity up to 20 years.
- 80% of its territory has disappeared in 13 years.
© Amur leopard, (Panthera pardus orientalis) snarling in snow. Captive. © naturepl.com/Lynn M. Stone / WWF
© Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) snarling © naturepl.com/Lynn M. Stone / WWF
© Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) lying in snow. Captive animal, USA © naturepl.com/Lynn M. Stone / WWF