Amongst the rarest animals in the world, Amur Leopard is the reclusive big cat of Russian Far East. Known also as the Siberian Leopard, Far East Leopard, Korean Leopard and Manchurian Leopard, its territory overlaps with that of Siberian Tiger, though even as the tiger is flourishing, the beautiful leopard is threatened with near extinction.
Panthera Pardus Orientalis or Panthera Pardus Amurensis, the Amur Leopard weighs in the range of eighty to one hundred and sixty pounds for males and between sixty to one hundred and twenty pounds for females. Body length is in the range of five to seven feet for males and four to five feet for females. The big cat is distinguishable from other leopard subspecies by virtue of its stunning coat which takes a brighter glow in summer months and turns relatively pale in winter, when it also increases in length from one inch to three inches to provide protection against the harsh cold. The relatively long legs are also believed to assist the leopard in treading through snow in winter. Rosettes are larger with thicker borders and greater spacing in this subspecies.
Solitary and nocturnal felines, the Siberian Leopards live in forested habitats of Sikhote-Alin mountains of southern Russia. Skilled predators, they avoids direct competition with the Amur Tiger whilst hunting. They prey mainly on wild boar, sika, musk and roe deer, badgers, rodents and hares. Reputed to be good swimmer and climbers, they are capable of jumping twenty feet horizontally and ten feet vertically.
The leopard is seen mainly in Southeastern Russia where twenty five to thirty four individuals are believed to exist. Less than ten of the reclusive cats are thought to reside in the Chinese Northeast. Perhaps a few animals exist in North Korea but there is no way of confirming that for the time being. Loss of habitat and prey in China and Korean peninsula means the outlook is bleak for the leopard except for some scattered areas of Far East-Primorskii region of Russia.
Breeding season for the Amur Leopard is in spring and early summer. Pregnancy lasts for three to three and a half months following which one to six cubs are born that open their eyes at around ten days of age. They are weaned off at three months and gain independence at one and a half to two years. Sexual maturity is reached at nearly three years of age. Lifespan in captivity is known to be up to twenty three years.
Amur Leopards are facing a variety of threats today. Their numbers in the wild are too low to sustain sufficient genetic variability. Captive leopards worldwide suffer from pollution of their gene pool with as few as twelve animals reported to be purebred in captive programs globally. In nature they suffer from inbreeding, loss of habitat to logging and forest fires, poaching, hunting and conflict with humans. Less than forty animals exist today in which only half a dozen or so are females. Fortunately some conservation programs are underway that are beginning to collar and study the leopards, undertake regular patrols to deter poachers and compensate locals against any loss of their livestock and bred animals at the hands of leopards. A lot of financial and logistic input is still required before the beautiful Amur Leopard can rise from its current conservation status of Critically Endangered.