Amur leopard conservation in Russia
Ten times more endangered than the Amur tiger, these beautiful cats are now found only in the forests of southwest Primorsky Krai in the Russian Far East, and it is estimated that only about 30-35 are left in the wild.
The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is a unique subspecies of leopard. While there are eight subspecies of leopard in the world, the Amur leopard is only found in a small corner of the Russian Far East, along the Chinese border. It is adapted to this cold climate by having very thick fur (up to 7.5 cm long in winter), which is paler with wider spaced spots than other leopards.
The plight of the Amur leopard went almost unheard of until zoos began to take up its cause in the mid 1990s. Now it has featured in several documentaries shown worldwide, and the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance
(ALTA) has created a conservation programme to protect them. ALTA’s conservation strategies for Amur leopards include protection from illegal hunting and habitat destruction, awareness programmes with local villages, and compensation schemes for deer farmers. ZSL is a coordinating member of ALTA and maintains the ALTA website
to provide the public with information about Amur leopard conservation.
Leopards are monitored each year using camera traps and snow track counts, and the results from both techniques tell us that there are only about 30-35 leopards still living in the wild. This tiny population is threatened by forest loss through fires deliberately set each spring, by economic development - the area is an important one for Russia, containing many ports - and by people hunting both the leopard and the species it needs for food. It is also vulnerable to inbreeding depression, natural catastrophes, and disease outbreaks, any of which can be disastrous for such a small population.
While the number of leopards is stable, human settlements on all sides of its range mean that they are still in a very precarious situation. ZSL is part of a number of NGOs who are organizing a reintroduction plan which aims to have a second population of Amur leopards established in a reserve where they used to live, north of Vladivostok and away from the cities.
ZSL will play a key role in this plan, as it co-ordinates the European/Russian zoo conservation breeding programme, in partnership with Moscow Zoo. There are over 100 Amur leopards in zoos and they are a vital resource for conservation in the wild, through education, fundraising, research and 'the genetic lifeboat'. Reintroduction plans are moving ahead and it is very possible that the progeny of the Amur leopards in a zoo near you will one day feel the crunch of crisp snow under their paws as they roam wild in the forests of the Russian Far East.
For more information, check out ALTA's conservation video below and the links at the side of this page.
ALTA Amur leopard Conservation - 10 minutes from ALTA movies on Vimeo.
Video courtesy of ALTA