Amur Leopard Facts

Scientific Name: Panthera pardus orientalis

Amur Leopard walking in a snowy environment
Kathleen Reeder Wildlife Photography / Getty Images

The Far Eastern or Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is one of the world's most endangered cats. It is a solitary, nocturnal leopard with a wild population estimated at over 84 individuals who mostly reside in the Amur River basin of eastern Russia with a few scattered in neighboring China and in a relatively new refuge established in 2012. They are particularly vulnerable to extinction because Amur leopards have the lowest levels of genetic variation of any leopard subspecies.

Fast Facts: Amur Leopard

  • Scientific Name: Panthera pardus orientalis
  • Common Names: Amurland leopard, Far Eastern leopard, Manchurian leopard, Korean leopard
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 25–31 inches at the shoulder, 42–54 inches long
  • Weight: 70–110 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–15 years
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: Primorye region of southeastern Russia and northern China
  • Population: More than 80
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Description

The Amur leopard is a subspecies of leopard with a thick coat of long, dense hair varying in color from creamy yellow to rusty orange, depending on their habitat. Amur leopards in the snowier Amur River Basin of Russia develop lighter coats in the winter and tend to have more cream-colored coats than their Chinese kin. Their rosettes (spots) are more widely spaced with thicker black borders than other subspecies of leopards. They also have larger legs and wider paws than other subspecies, an adaptation that facilitates movement through deep snow. 

Both males and females range in height between 25 to 31 inches at the shoulder and are typically 42 to 54 inches long. Their tales measure approximately 32 inches in length. Males are typically heavier at 70 to 110 pounds while females typically weigh 55 to 75 pounds. 

Rare & Endangered Panthera pardus orientalis
Thomas Kitchin & Victoria Hurst​/Getty Images

Habitat and Range

Amur leopards can survive in temperate forest and mountain regions, keeping mostly to south-facing rocky slopes in winter (where less snow accumulates). Individuals' territories can range from 19 to 120 square miles, depending upon age, sex, and prey density—the latter of which has greatly diminished in recent years, though they are on increase in protected areas.

Historically, Amur leopards have been found in eastern China, southeastern Russia, and throughout the Korean Peninsula. The first known documentation was a skin found by German zoologist Hermann Schlegel in 1857 in Korea. More recently, the few remaining leopards are scattered throughout approximately 1,200 square miles in the area where the borders of Russia, China, and North Korea meet the Sea of Japan. Today, Amur leopards are increasing in numbers, due to the creation of protected areas and other conservation efforts.

Diet and Behavior

The Amur leopard is a strictly carnivorous predator that primarily hunts roe and sika deer but will also eat wild boar, Manchurian wapiti, musk deer, and moose. It will opportunistically prey on hares, badgers, raccoon dogs, fowl, mice, and even young Eurasian black bears.

Reproduction and Offspring

Amur leopards reach reproductive maturity between the ages of two and three years. Females' estrus period last from 12 to 18 days with gestation taking approximately 90 to 95 days. Cubs are typically born from the end of March through May and weigh a little over one pound at birth. Like domestic cats, their eyes remain closed for about a week and they begin to crawl 12 to 15 days after birth. Young Amur leopards have been reported to remain with their mother for up to two years.

Amur leopards have been known to live for up to 21 years in captivity, though their lifespan in the wild is typically 10 to 15 years.

Little cubs in the wild on the grass are cute and funny
Kuzmichstudio/Getty Images

Conservation Status

According to the World Wildlife Fund, "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. Extending nearly 650,000 acres it includes all of the Amur leopard’s breeding areas and about 60 percent of the critically endangered cat’s remaining habitat."
In addition, conservationists have been successful in "reducing illegal and unsustainable logging practices and facilitating trade between companies committed to responsible forestry practices. In 2007, WWF and other conservationists successfully lobbied the Russian government to reroute a planned oil pipeline that would have endangered the leopard's habitat."

The IUCN Species Survival Commission has considered Amur leopards Critically Endangered (IUCN 1996) since 1996. As of 2019, more than 84 individuals remain in the wild (mostly in protected areas) and 170 to 180 live in captivity.

The primary causes for their low population are habitat destruction from commercial logging and farming from 1970 to 1983 and illegal poaching for fur over the last 40 years. Fortunately, conservation efforts by organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) are working to recover the species from extinction.

Threats

Although human interference plays a key role in Amur leopards' endangered status, their low level of genetic variation due to recent dwindling population size has led to many health complications including reduced fertility. 

  • Habitat destructionBetween 1970 and 1983, 80 percent of the Amur leopard's habitat was lost due to logging, forest fires, and agricultural land conversion projects (this loss of habitat also affected the leopard's prey species, which have become increasingly scarce as well).
  • Human Conflict: With less wild prey to hunt, leopards have gravitated to deer farms where they have been killed by farmers.
  • Poaching: The Amur leopard is illegally hunted for its fur, which is sold on the black market. Habitat loss has made it easier to locate and kill leopards within the past 40 years.
  • Small Population Size: The Amur leopard's critically low population is at risk from disease or environmental catastrophes that could wipe out all remaining individuals.
  • Lack of Genetic Variation: Because there are so few individual leopards left in the wild, they are subject to inbreeding. Inbred offspring are prone to health problems, including reduced fertility which further reduces the population's chance of survival.

    Though these issues are being addressed and the number of Amur leopards has increased, the species is still considered to be critically endangered.

    Amur Leopards and Humans

    The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) works in close cooperation with local, regional, and federal organizations to protect the region's biological wealth through conservation, sustainable development, and local community involvement. They maintain four anti-poaching teams with a total of 15 members in the Amur leopard range, monitor the Amur leopard population through snow track counts and camera trap counts, restore leopard habitats, support ungulate recovery, and run a media campaign to create awareness about the Amur leopard's plight.

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has established anti-poaching teams and environmental education programs to increase appreciation for the leopard among local communities within the leopard's range. WWF also implements programs to stop the traffic in Amur leopard parts and to increase the population of prey species in the leopard's habitat such as the 2003 Forest Conservation Programme in the Russian Far East Ecoregion Complex, the 2007 lobbying effort to reroute a planned oil pipeline, and the 2012 establishment of a large refuge for Amur leopards, tigers, and other endangered species.

    Sources