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Amur Leopard

Amur Leopard Photo
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Leopards are highly adaptable cats, and all nine subspecies of leopard were once common throughout most of Africa and Asia. Today, however, the Amur leopard is considered the world’s rarest cat. Also known as the Far Eastern leopard, this cat’s range originally extended across northeastern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southern portion of Primorsky Krai, Russia. Now just 25 to 40 Amur leopards remain, occupying a sliver of habitat in Russia along its border with China. A few of these individuals sometimes wander into China.  

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 spots, or rosettes, of Amur leopards are more widely spaced and have thicker black borders, making it a very beautiful cat. Their fur color changes from reddish yellow in summer to light yellow during winter. To help the cats stay warm, the length of their fur can also vary between one and three inches, depending on the time of year.

Female Amur leopards maintain home ranges that range in size from 15 to 38 square miles, while males can have territories as large as 155 square miles. They hunt mainly roe and sika deer, hares, badgers, mice, and other small animals.


Fast Facts

Scientific NamePanthera pardus orientalis
  • Amur leopards are solitary animals. Aside from mating and territorial disputes, they rarely interact with one another. 
  • Breeding can occur year round, and the average litter size is two or three cubs.
  • WCS scientists radio-collared a two- to three-year-old male Amur leopard in 1994. The same cat was photographed during camera-trapping surveys in 2003, proving that leopards can live more than ten years in their natural habitat. However, other results of WCS research indicate that mortality rates in the wild may be very high. 

Challenges

The primary reasons for the Amur leopard’s decline are hunting and loss of habitat. Humans are their main predators: Trophy hunters seek to kill the leopards 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.

WCS Responds

WCS has assisted Russian scientists in snow-track surveys to estimate leopard density and distribution since 1997. Results from these efforts and camera-trap surveys indicate a small but stable population of around 30 leopards remains in Russia. In 2008, researchers from WCS-Russia and partner organizations captured, examined, and released a female Amur leopard in the Russian Far East, as part of a population survey. The researchers photographed eight leopards during the survey.

 We work with local hunting associations to improve wildlife management and promote leopard and tiger conservation in multiple-use forests. We are also working with a local government partner to improve fire suppression and prevention in the region.

Given the Amur leopard’s very small numbers, scientists believe inbreeding is likely occurring. To help increase genetic diversity in this subspecies’ population, experts have proposed relocating leopards from other areas. A similar effort helped revive the Florida panther after animals were transferred from Texas. Along with habitat loss, if inbreeding and disease in Amur leopards can be kept in check, WCS and its partners believe there is great potential for improving the species’ survival rates in Russia and northeastern China.

From the Newsroom

Rare Appearance for an Extremely Rare CatApril 25, 2012

Camera traps set up by protected area staff in Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve snap the first-known camera trap photos of an Amur leopard in China.

Land of the Leopard Opens in RussiaApril 13, 2012

A new 1,000 square-mile park will safeguard leopards and Siberian tigers in Russia. Far Eastern leopards are considered the world’s rarest big cat.

Apex Predators: A Scary LossJuly 20, 2011

In a recent study, WCS Conservationist Joel Berger concludes that the loss of large predators in the wild may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.

Rare Cat CapturedOctober 31, 2008

A rare female Far Eastern leopard is captured and released along the Russian-Chinese border. The leopard, one of about 40 in existence, is in good shape.

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