Saturday, 19 March 2011

Amur Leopard

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis), also known as the Manchurian leopard and the Far Eastern leopard, is a wild feline predator native to the mountainous areas of the taiga as well as other temperate forests in Korea, Northeast China and the Russian Far East. It is one of the rarest felids in the world with an estimated 30 to 35 individuals remaining in the wild.[2] The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has deemed the Amur leopard critically endangered, meaning that it is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild


Of the nine subspecies of leopards, the Amur leopard shows the strongest divergence in coat pattern.[3] The coat is of a pale, cream color (especially in winter) and has widely spaced rosettes with thick, black rings and darkened centers.[3] The length of the coat varies between 2.5 cm (1 in) in summer and 7.5 cm (3 in) in winter. The paler coat and longer fur of the Amur leopard make it distinct from other subspecies. They are also known to have light, blue-green eyes.


Male Amur leopards weigh 32–48 kg (71–106 lb), with exceptionally large males up to 60–75 kg (132–165 lb). Females are smaller than the males at 25–43 kg (55–95 lb).[4]

The main prey species of the Amur leopard are roe and sika deer, along with hares and badgers.[4]

The Amur typically faces difficulty in areas where it must share territory with tigers, but this is seldom the case in Russia. Studies have indicated that an increased tiger population in the Southwest Primorye area has not adversely affected the leopard population.

Amur leopards in zoos show some evidence of seasonal breeding with a peak in births in late spring/early summer. After a gestation period of around 12 weeks cubs are born in litters of 1–4 individuals, with an average litter size of just over 2. The cubs will stay with their mother for up to two years before becoming fully independent. Females first breed at an age of 3–4 years.

In the wild, leopards live for 10–15 years and they may reach 20 years in captivity


Amur leopards are one of the most endangered species on the planet and the most endangered big cat. There are only believed to be around 35 left in the wild

There appears to be poaching of leopards as well as their prey species. Poachers include both poor local villagers and newly rich Russians, mainly from the city of Vladivostok, as well as Chinese nationals who illegally cross the border into Russia. Russian hunters kill many more deer than is officially allowed and Amur leopards are sometimes caught in snares as well. Since 2002, skins or corpses of nine Amur leopards killed by poachers have been found in Russia and at least two leopards have been killed in China.[5]

The forests on which Amur leopards depend have slowly disappeared as a result of frequent fires. Local villagers start fires for various reasons, but mainly to stimulate the growth of ferns that are a very popular ingredient in Russian and Chinese dishes.

Loss of genetic diversity in the small and isolated Amur leopard population may cause inbreeding depression (reduced numbers due to reduced reproduction, lifespan and increased vulnerability to diseases). However, the results of research so far are inconclusive and additional information on the effects of inbreeding is needed before conclusions can be drawn.They have young every two years.
Development projects

Southwest Primorye is located close to the Russian borders with China and North Korea, making it an attractive area for infrastructure projects such as new railways, gas and oil pipelines, and ports. In 2005 and 2006 the Zoological Society of London and other ALTA partners led a successful international campaign against a plan to build an oil pipeline terminal on the coast of the Sea of Japan in the leopard’s rang


 Although not much attention has been paid to the situation, significant progress in conserving Amur leopards and tigers has been made over the last decade. A coalition of 13 international and Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have pooled resources by creating The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA). Inside the Russian Far East, Phoenix Fund conducts anti-poaching and habitat protection activities, while other ALTA members conduct public outreach, policy development, and scientific research to forward Amur leopard conservation. Collectively, ALTA members have been co-operating for many years in developing, financing and implementing conservation projects in Russia and China.

ALTA members have developed a comprehensive conservation program for the Amur leopard’s range in Russia and Northeast China that includes:

   1. Anti-poaching
   2. Forest fire-fighting
   3. Compensation for livestock killed by tigers and leopards
   4. A comprehensive education and public awareness program
   5. Population monitoring (Snow-track counts and camera trapping)
   6. Ecological and biomedical research
   7. Support for protected areas and hunting leases
   8. Lobbying for improved conservation policies and regulations
   9. Amur leopard conservation in China

In addition, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is also a major contributor.

In recent years wildlife in Russia has suffered from a lack of political interest in conservation.[6] Negative developments since 2000 include the abolition of the State Committee for Nature Conservation, revoking the law enforcement rights of Inspection Tiger (an anti-poaching brigade for protection of tigers and leopards), and a reduction of approximately 80% in the number of field inspectors for protection of forests and animals. The only official North Korean government site, Naenara, reported in 2009 that in Myohyangsan Nature Reserve located in Hyangsan County, there were some leopards. It is likely the southernmost living group of Amur's Leopard.

Ex situ conservation

There are approximately 300 Amur leopards in zoos in Europe, Russia and North America. These are part of breeding programmes that try to ensure that the zoo populations do not become too inbred. Transfers of animals are made between zoos so that different individuals can breed together to produce cubs with high genetic variation. It is important to maintain zoo populations of the Amur leopard with a reasonable level of genetic variation because it is likely that some individuals from zoos will be reintroduced into the wild in the future.

Re-introduction into the wild

In March 2009 the Minister of Natural Resources of Russia during his meeting with Vladimir Putin reassured the Prime Minister that the ministry is planning to restore Amur Leopard population by introducing new "imported" Amur Leopards into the area and creating suitable and safe habitat for them. Mr. Trutnev did not explain where the ministry is planning to get additional leopards and how. (It is assumed that Ministry is planning to re-introduce captive animals (cubs) into the wild). He has also said that the job is going according to the plan, and that specialists are already working on the project and that the government already allocated all required funds for the project.[7]

There is the possibility that leopards from zoo stocks will be used for reintroduction into the wild within the foreseeable future. The reintroduction plan is completed and will hopefully be approved at a meeting in Vladivostok in March 2010. This would create a second population as a backup, probably in the Lazovsky Nature Reserve where Amur leopards have historically been found.

Further information on the reintroduction of Amur leopards from zoos can be found in Chapter 18 of 'Reintroduction of Top-Order Predators', published in 2009.