Talk about Leopard and people usually think of them in the savannas of Africa but in the Russian Far East, a rare subspecies Amur Leopard, has adapted to life in the harsh, cold climates. It is also known as Far Eastern Leopard, Korean Leopard, and Manchurian Leopard.
Similar to other Leopards, the Amur Leopard can run at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. It can leap more than 19 feet horizontally and up to 10 feet vertically. It differs from other subspecies by a thick coat which can grow as long as 7 cm in winters. This coat is fairly soft with long and dense hair. They are rather small in size ranging from 107 to 136 cm with a tail length of 82 to 90 cm and a shoulder height of 64 to 78 cm. In weight males ranges from 32.2-48 kg and females from 25-42.5 kg.
The Amur Leopard is nimble-footed, strong, and solitary and is active mainly during the night. It has been reported that some males stay with females after mating, and may even help with rearing the young. They live up to 10-15 years and in captivity up to 20 years.
☛ Amur Leopard once ranged from northeastern (“Manchurian”) China, including Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces throughout the Korean Peninsula. The species range in Russia was dramatically reduced during the seventies, losing about 80% of its former range.
☛ They are confined more to places where wild Sika deer live or where deer husbandry is practised. In winter they keep it to the snow-free rocky slopes facing south.
☛ Today, the Amur Leopard inhabits about 5,000 sq. km. The last remaining population, estimated 20-25 individuals, is found in a small area in the Russian Province of Primorsky Krai, between Vladivostok and the Chinese border. In China, only 7-12 scattered individuals are estimated to remain.
☛ The official North Korean government web portal reported in 2009 that there were some Leopards in Myohyangsan Nature Reserve located in Hyangsan County. It is likely to be the southernmost living group of Amur Leopard.
► FEEDS ON
☛ Amur Leopards are skillful hunters, stalking their prey to within a striking distance of few meters and feeding opportunistically on a wider range of animals.
☛ They normally hunt at night and need large territories to avoid competition for prey.
☛ They ambush their prey using a burst energy reaching speeds of up to 35 mph and then carry and hide unfinished kills, sometimes up trees, so that they are not taken by other predators.
☛ They feed mainly on Hares, Badgers, Roe deer and Sika deer.
► STATUS & THREATS
☛ The Amur Leopard is classified as Critically Endangered since 1996 by IUCN.
☛ The results from population monitoring in 2011 suggests that, there are only 40 individuals left. The Amur Leopard probably went extinct in the wild in South Korea in late 1960s.
☛ The Amur Leopard has been systematically hunted out of most of its former range for its coat and for the bones that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
☛ There are still large tracts of suitable habitat left across the Amur in Russia and China. In China the prey base is insufficient to sustain large populations of Leopards and tigers. For the Amur Leopard to survive for the long term, it needs to recover prey populations.
☛ The tiny population that survives today is under extreme risk of extinction; genetic variation is low in small populations and they are extremely vulnerable to any chance event such as an epidemic or large wild fire.
☛ In addition a variety of proposed economic development, including the building or an oil pipeline, threatens the last wilderness refuge of these big cats.
► CONSERVATION EFFORTS
☛ Amur Leopards are listed on CITES Appendix I, prohibiting all commercial trade in the species.
☛ An area in China’s Jilin province has recently been set aside for the creation of a National Park, in order to safeguard the remnant population of these threatened big cats.
☛ WWF supports anti-poaching work in all Amur Leopard habitats in the Russian Far East and in known Leopard localities in northeast China.
☛ 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.
☛ 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.