Amur Leopard - A Critically Endangered Species
The Amur Leopard is one of the most critically endangered species in the world and is on the IUCN Red List since 1996. They are ecologically, economically and culturally important species (WWF priority species) on our planet. They were first discovered by Hermann Schlegal in 1857.
According to a census in 2007, there are only 7 to 12 Amur Leopards in China and 20 to 25 Amur Leopards in Russia in the wild and around 200 in captive all over the world. Most of the captives are in the European zoos where they are managed by a captive breeding program called Europaeisches Erhaltungszucht Programme (EEP). The last Amur Leopard recorded in Korea was in 1969 when a leopard was captured on the slopes of a hill.
The above few Amur Leopards that are in the wild are found in the remote parts of the China-Russia border called Amur river valley, mountains of North Eastern China, Ussuri river valley across the China-North Korea border and in Korean peninsula
Conservation of this species and their habitat are extremely important and this will benefit other endangered species like the Amur tigers and their prey the roe deer, the sika deer and the rabbits.
There are villages surrounding the forests where these leopards live and hence it makes it easy for the poachers to access their habitat.
The scientific name for Amur Leopard is Panthera pardus orientalis and they are found in the temperate forests of Far East Russia (Primorskii region of Southeast Russia) and China (Jilin, Heilongjiang province of north-east China) where there is large difference in temperature and precipitation. Their fur is thick compared to the other species of leopards.
- Family: Felidae
- Genus: Panthera
- Species: Panthera pardus
- Subspecies: Panthera pardus orientalis
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
Abbreviations and explanation of terms used:
WWF – World Wildlife Fund
ALTA – Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance
IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature
ZSL – Zoological Society of London
Ungulates - mammals with hooves
TRAFFIC - Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network
Characteristics of the Amur Leopard:
- These leopards have a light cream colour coat in winter and bright reddish yellow colour in summer with spots that are widely spaced with thick borders.
- Its legs are longer than the other leopard species because they are adapted to walk easily in the snow.
- The length of the hair is between 20 to 25 mm in summer and around 50 to 75 mm in winter which helps adapt to the harsh winter climate.
- The approximate size of the leopard ranges between 107 to 136 cm, height between 64 to 78 cm and the length of its tail is around 82 to 90 cm.
- The male leopards weigh between thirty two to forty eight kg and the females between twenty five to forty three kg. Some males can be large and weigh from sixty to seventy five kg.
- They have large jaws with long pointed canine tooth that help with grabbing and holding the prey.
- Their tongues have sharp pointed papillae that aid with removing meat off the bones of their prey.
Amur leopard cubs
Reproduction in Amur Leopard:
- They are able to reproduce when they are three to four years old and continue to reproduce till they are ten to fifteen years old.
- The breeding season is usually from late spring to early summer.
- The gestation period (The period during which an embryo develops) is between ninety to one hundred and five days.
- Cubs are born in litters of one to four and a newborn cub weighs between 1.1 to 1.5 pounds. They open their eyes when they are between seven to ten days old and start crawling when they are twelve to fifteen days old.
- The cubs come out of their den and start eating meat during their second month.
- The mother lactates for five to six months and the young ones sometimes stay with their mother from one and a half to two years till they become completely independent.
Range and habitat of the Amur LeopardClick thumbnail to view full-size
Habitat of the Amur Leopard:
- The Amur leopards’ habitat are temperate forests of Far Eastern Russia where the winters are severe with heavy snowfall and the summers are hot.
- They were earlier found in a large area near the borders of China (North Eastern China), North Korea and the Korean Peninsula.
- They are found mostly in the mountainous regions and in places where the wild sika deer, (its prey) lives.
- They move to snow-free slopes during winter.
- In the 1970s the leopards in Russia separated from one closely living population into three separate populations along the borders with China and North Korea.
Heroes for a Living Planet -- Amur Leopard
Living habit and Food of the Amur Leopard:
- Amur leopards have their own territories and each individual’s territory can extend from a river basin up to the topographical borders of that area.
- Depending on the age and size of the family, the area for each individual can range from nineteen to twenty square miles which they use for hunting, migration and living.
- They occupy large territories in order to avoid competition for prey and their territories might slightly overlap sometimes
- They migrate up or downhill within their territory to stay away from snow and follow trails of other leopards for migration.
- The main prey for these leopards are the roe deer, the sika deer, wild boar, musk deer, red deer, young black bears and moose. They also rarely prey on mice, fowls, hare, racoon dogs and badgers.
- They have larger areas for their home when density of ungulates is low.
Main threats and reasons why the Amur leopards are endangered:
There are many reasons why this species is endangered. Most of the important ones are,
- Prey scarcity is one major reason for this species to be in danger although large areas of habitat are still available across the Amur in Russia and some in China. Prey scarcity can be brought back to normal if poaching of the prey species is limited by managing illegal cutting down of trees in the forests.
- Illegal wildlife trade is another serious concern, where these Amur Leopards are poached for their beautiful fur and their prey are hunted for food and cash. The antlers of the deer and the bones of the leopard are traded with the traditional Chinese and Asian medicine market.
- Advancement in civilisation and constructing new roads are another reason why the nearby Amur Leopard habitat gets destroyed
- Climate change
- Converting forest land to farmland
- Induced forest fire by humans sometimes to kill pests and other insects or to stimulate fern growth or to improve fertility of soil. Surveys indicate that fires are set every year in the forests for the above reasons and forests are becoming grasslands or savannahs which the leopards do not prefer living in.
- Tourism, constructing roads for transport, industries like mineral extraction and other substructure development pose a threat to the leopard’s habitat as it is located close to the areas where there are high population, like the Japanese sea and borders of China and Korea.
- High mortality rate of cubs and adult leopards occur due to diseases, natural catastrophes and human impact.
- Preventive killing by farmers to save their livestock, when the leopards go into deer farms looking for prey because of scarcity of prey in the wild.
- Inbreeding leads to genetic problems and infertility.
Conservation efforts taken to save the Amur Leopards:
- Amur leopards can be brought back from extinction if the proper conservation attempts are taken. The first step towards this effort is recuperating the prey populations. Efforts are taken to increase the population of the prey species like roe deer, sika deer and wild boar by releasing more numbers of them into the habitat.
Amur leopards caught on camera
- The government of Russia declared a new protected area called “Land of the Leopard” national park in 2012 which is an area of nearly 65,000 acres. This area includes most of the breeding areas and habitat of the Amur Leopard.
- Camera traps (A camera trap is an automated camera used to capture photographs of wild animals and they do not harm wildlife) that capture pictures of wildlife have been set up by WWF to monitor the leopards and their habitat. Footprint counts are also monitored.
- WWF along with other conservationists made the Russian government to re-route a planned oil pipe-line from Central Siberia to the coast of the Sea of Japan that would have endangered the leopard’s habitat otherwise.
- Plans for open pit coal mine in the leopards’ habitat were stopped by the ministry of natural resources and other environment officers.
- The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) is a conservation organisation that was initiated by Russia and other western conservation organisations. It works closely with the government and aims at conserving the Amur leopards and Amur tiger in Russia and China, fund conservation projects and also help with educating the people about the importance of the species.
- WWF carries out anti-poaching activities in the leopard habitat of Far East Russia and also carries out programs to increase the population of ungulates. It is also working towards stopping transport and public traffic near the leopards’ habitat.
- ZSL is part of ALTA and they are also actively involved in conserving the Amur leopards
- NGOs like Phoenix also carry out anti-poaching patrol and fire-fighting. They also fund to compensate for the local livestock and education programs to create awareness for conservation. They are supported by ZSL, Tigris foundation (Conservation of the Amur leopard and Siberian tiger in Russia) and AMUR (Conservation charity for the Amur Leopard and Tiger).
- ZSL and Moscow zoo are involved in captive breeding programmes.
Conservation projects for the Amur Leopards include:
- Improvements and developments of anti-poaching teams
ALTA Amur Leopard Conservation
- Special task force of the local police to help with anti-poaching, fire-fighting and illegal wildlife trade
- Camera traps to monitor the wildlife
- Monitoring the effect of fires
- Habitat assessment
- Compensation for livestock killed by leopards and tigers
- Support from organisations for the safeguarded areas
- Educating school children about the importance of conservation
- Support for programs to regain the ungulate population
- Awareness about leopards’ plight
Reintroduction programs for the Amur Leopards:
There have been plans and talks since 1996 by ALTA members about reintroduction programs for the Amur leopard. A number of issues need to be considered before reintroduction like
- Reason why and how the leopards disappeared from their habitat
- Reasons for extinction in a particular area
- Support and awareness from local people
- Increase the availability of prey in areas where reintroduction will take place
- Conditions in favour of the leopards in the habitat where they will be released
- Make sure that reintroduction will not affect the existing population of leopards and prey.
In the reintroduction process, leopards that were born and brought up in a zoo or reintroduction centre are given a rehab program for adapting to their life in the wild where behaviours like hunting and killing natural prey, avoiding humans and tigers are acquired. The Russian government also has allocated required funds for this project.
Other steps taken to conserve and protect the Amur Leopards:
- Since the number of remaining species of this leopard is very faint, each loss of an Amur Leopard will put the species at a greater risk of extinction. So anti-poaching campaigns and other conservation programmes are carried out by WWF in the far eastern region of Russia and China where these leopards live.
- Other programs to stop illegal trade of leopard parts have been implemented by the WWF. WWF also works with TRAFFIC to help the governments implement domestic and international trade restrictions on Amur Leopards.
- Large areas suitable for this leopards’ habitat are available. So proper recovery of the population of the prey need to be put into effect by limiting poaching and deforestation which will largely help to repopulate the leopards.
Facts about Amur Leopards:
- Amur leopards being one of the nine subspecies of leopards, are the smallest of the four big cats, the lion, tiger, jaguar and the leopard.
- Amur leopards are the only leopards that live at higher altitudes and colder regions.
- Amur Leopards can run at a speed of thirty seven miles per hour, leap at a height of ten feet for a distance of twenty feet and are good at climbing trees.
- They hunt alone in the night, and use the silent stalk and ambush technique (follow them quietly in order to kill them) to hunt their prey.
- They hide their prey and left over from hunts sometimes even on trees, so that they are not taken away by other predators
- A female Amur leopard with cubs needs fifty percent more food that when she is without cubs
- Sometimes several males fight over a female and some male Amur leopards stay with the females to help rear the young ones.
- They live for ten to fifteen years in the wild and for up to twenty years in captivity.
- Other names for Amur Leopard are Far East Leopard, Manchurian Leopard, Korean Leopard
- Media channels like Animal planet, E4 and other channels have been broadcasting documentaries about the plight of Amur leopards. Advertisements and campaigns are also on-going to get support for conservation efforts.
- The total captive population has come from nine wild-born founders and hence most of them are highly inbred.
What can we do to help protect and conserve the Amur Leopards?
Amur leopards can be saved from extinction if all the conservation plans are implemented, improved and then kept going.
- We can also support the cause by adopting an Amur Leopard at WWF which will help secure the leopards’ habitat, establish anti-poaching teams and also provide people with environmental education that will stress the importance of the animal to that region.
- Please do not buy any products made of leopard parts.
- Also you can spread the word about these leopards, to everyone around you, which is an easier task to do.
I hope you found the information here useful. Please leave your thoughts, comments and experiences if any. If you find any errors in the information provided here, please do not hesitate to feedback.
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