Due to extensive habitat loss and conflict with humans, the situation concerning the Amur leopard is critical. However, the fact that its more eminent cousin - the Amur tiger - recovered from a precarious state of fewer than 40 individuals some 60-70 years ago gives conservationists hope. It is believed that the Amur leopard can be saved from extinction if the present conservation initiatives are implemented, enhanced and sustained.
The Amur leopard is poached largely for its beautiful, spotted fur. In 1999, an undercover investigation team recovered a female and a male Amur leopard skin, which were being sold for $500 and $1,000 respectively in the village of Barabash, not far from the Kedrovaya Pad reserve in Russia.
Similar to other leopards, the Amur leopard can run at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. This incredible animal has been reported to leap more than 19 feet horizontally and up to 10 feet vertically.
The Amur leopard has some very distinguishing features. The hairs of its summer pelt are 2.5 cm long but in winter they are replaced by 7 cm long ones.
Apart from its long winter coat, which is a light colour in the winter, and more reddish-yellow in the summer, the Amur leopard is easily told apart from other leopard subspecies by its widely spaced rosettes with thick borders. It also has longer legs, probably an adaptation for walking through snow.
Adult males weight around 32-48 kg, and exceptionally large males weigh up to 75 kg. Females typically weigh 25-43 kg.
Habitat and ecology of the Amur leopard
The Amur leopard is found in temperate forest habitat, which experience a wide range of variability in temperature and precipitation. It is known to adapt to almost any habitat that provides it with sufficient food and cover.
The Amur leopard is habitually nocturnal and solitary. Nimble-footed and strong, it carries and hides unfinished kills so that they are not taken by other predators. However, it has been reported that some males stay with females after mating, and may even help with rearing the young. Several males sometimes follow and fight over a female.
Main threats to the Amur leopard
Habitat loss and fragmentation
It is estimated that between 1970-1983, the Amur leopard lost an astonishing 80% of its former territory. Indiscriminate logging, forest fires and land conversion for farming are the main causes.
There are still large tracts of suitable habitat left in China, but the prey base in these forests is insufficient to sustain populations of leopards and tigers. Prey populations will recover if the use of the forests by the local population is regulated and if measures are taken to limit the poaching of ungulates.
Poaching and illegal trade
The Amur leopard is poached largely for its beautiful, spotted fur. In 1999, an undercover investigation team recovered a female and a male Amur leopard skin, which were being sold for US$ 500 and US$ 1,000 respectively, in the village of Barabash, not far from the Kedrovaya Pad reserve.
Conflict with humans
Amur leopards are particularly vulnerable because of their preference for deer, a natural predatory preference but dangerous in the Russian Far East due to direct human involvement: farmers in the Russian Far East raise deer for human consumption, and to produce antlers for the Asian medicine market.
In absence of wild prey, the leopards often venture into the deer farms in search for food. Owners of these farms are quick to protect their investment by eliminating leopards attacking their stock. Presently, the leopard's most immediate threat comes from such retaliatory or preventive killing.