The world’s rarest big cat is most likely the gorgeous Amur leopard. Panthera pardus orientalis is their scientific name, which classifies them as a subspecies of leopard that, as of 2017, also includes P. p. japonensis. Conservation organizations still view these two creatures as distinct management units, therefore they still require a lot of assistance! Although they go by several names, including Siberian leopards, Far Eastern leopards, and Korean leopards, they derive their name from Amur Bay in the far east of Russia.
Because there are so few of these species left, it is quite improbable that you will ever encounter one in the wild. So let’s examine more closely and learn how the Amur leopard came to be in danger.
How Do Amur Leopards Appear?
Amur leopards have a yellowish coat with the trademark dark “rosette” pattern. To protect themselves from the freezing conditions, all of them grow longer fur in the winter, and some have a paler coat. The largest can grow to a length of 54 inches and a tail length of 35 inches, weighing more than 100 pounds.
Where Can You Find Amur Leopards?
This leopard, which inhabits the Russian Far East, is perfectly suited to live in subzero temperatures. They also migrate beyond the Tumen River into northeastern China. There are more dispersed populations in other parts of China, and it’s possible—though not guaranteed—that they exist in North Korea. Their natural habitats are forests.
Why Do They Matter So Much?
As carnivores, these leopards mostly hunt deer, adding smaller mammals like squirrels and hares to larger prey. They use their incredible speed and agility to hunt by themselves. Because they are the top predators in their environments, they are essential to keeping the other species in balance. The forests and, eventually, the food supply and other resources utilized by human populations are impacted by this.
How Many Amur Leopards Are Left in the World?
The IUCN Red List lists this subspecies as critically endangered. Less than 26 of them remained in 2007, 92 remained in 2015, and since 2021, the number has risen to above 100.
When Did They Start to Face Danger?
In 1996, the Amur leopard was listed as critically endangered. Before this, though, their numbers had been declining for decades.
What Caused the Amur Leopard to Go into Peril?
The Amur leopard’s habitats were diminished by forest degradation, human infrastructure development, and poaching, which led to its endangered status. Inbreeding posed an additional hazard to them once their numbers had dropped significantly.
Logging and fires are the main causes of deforestation. Traditionally, farmers in this area have burned their fields to increase the soil’s fertility. Ticks and other insect pests are also killed by it. Additionally, it promotes fern growth, which can be sold as an edible plant. The method eventually turns the forest into open areas that are completely unappealing to Amur leopards! Deer farms that were established in the 1990s in order to sell antlers to lucrative Asian markets have had an impact, though the number of these farms has since declined.
Although logging doesn’t have a big effect on itself, the industry’s infrastructure does. Because roads are needed to move logs out of forests, Amur habitats are impacted.
Regretfully, the gene pool is severely constrained when a species or subspecies is reduced to a small number of animals. Animals must mate with close relatives due to inbreeding, which is inevitable. Congenital defects and decreased reproductive success for the few surviving people may result from this.
How Come Amur Leopards Are Being Taken?
The primary threat facing this subspecies is poaching. Their coat is extremely valuable and breathtakingly gorgeous. It’s possible that local Russian hunters are selling their skins to Chinese dealers under false pretenses. It has been demonstrated that Amur leopard skins were being offered for $500 to $1,000. Additionally, traditional Asian medicine makes use of their bones.
How Is the Amur Leopard Being Preserved?
Due to conservation initiatives, the region that these large cats call home has grown from 860 square miles to 2,350 square miles since 2000. This is partly because the Russian Far East’s Land of the Leopard National Park was established in 2012. For the entire population of this species on the globe, this is currently its core range. With the creation of the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park in 2019, it is anticipated that the animals would be able to travel peacefully between the two nations.
These days, local police task forces, compensation plans, education efforts, and antipoaching teams safeguard the leopards.
Are They Becoming More Numerous?
They are a triumph for conservation because there is some evidence that their population is growing. However, a great deal more work remains! In 2018, there were over 100 people residing in the wild. There is evidence that the range of motion sensor-triggered camera traps is growing. Furthermore, 217 individuals housed in 88 zoos across the globe could potentially be utilized in upcoming reintroduction initiatives.
A Synopsis of the Amur Leopard’s Endangery
The Amur leopard is arguably the rarest big cat in the world. A few years ago, they were in danger of going extinct, but because to intensive conservation efforts, their numbers are now increasing. There used to be only about 26 of them remaining due to habitat degradation and poaching (for their coats and bones), which put them in jeopardy. Logging and fire are the threats to their woodland homes. It is hoped that recent efforts to safeguard their home ranges may enable a recovery of their populations.