According to wildlife conservationists, the beautiful Amur leopard is the rarest big cat on earth. Scientists estimate that the entire population of this critically endangered leopard species consists of around 60 individuals in the Russian Far East, and another 8-12 individuals in nearby China. Those numbers sound pretty discouraging, but the good news is that the Amur leopard population has more than doubled in 7 years, up from just 30 individuals in 2007.
The Amur is the northernmost species of leopard, well-adapted to living in cold mountain forest habitats. Most of the remaining Amur leopards live in Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park. They are solitary by nature, with superior athleticism and hunting skills.
Why is the Amur leopard so endangered? Sadly, just take one look at its beautiful spotted fur coat and you’ll know the answer…poaching. Undercover investigators have found Amur leopard skins for sale in Russian villages near the park. A large male skin can sell for as much as $1,000.
The Amur leopard is also endangered because of declining populations of prey species (such as deer and hare) in its habitat. Experts note that the prey base in China is so depleted, it is unable to support a large leopard population. The outlook is more positive in Russia, where the habitat can support more leopards.
Conservationists believe that the Amur leopard population in Russia can continue to rebound with a concerted effort to end poaching, repopulate prey animals, and also practice more sustainable logging in the leopard’s remote forest habitat.
Photo credits top to bottom (all Flickr): Amur Leopard by William Warby, Portrait of a male Amur leopard by Tambako the Jaguar, Amur Leopard Stalking by Eric Kilby, Amur leopard puppy by smerikal, Amur Leopard by Richard Gillin.
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