Of the nine recognised subspecies of the ‘vulnerable’ leopard (Panthera pardus), the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is perhaps one of the most under threat. This critically endangered leopard, also known as the Far East, Manchurian, or Korean leopard, is singular for the species given its northern distribution.
Leopards in the Highlands?
It was recently announced that the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland will be hosting two Amur leopards at its Highland Wildlife Park, in the hope that they will breed. The leopards, born in captivity, will not be on public display at the Cairngorms reserve; it is hoped that the potential cubs will therefore be able to be released into the wild due to this lack of human contact (BBC News).
The Amur leopard roams the temperate forests of the Russian Far East and North East China. The Amur River of this border gives the leopard one of its names. Sharing many characteristics of the leopard species, the Amur leopard notably possesses the ability to jump over 19 feet horizontally and 10 vertically. As with the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) of not dissimilar range, the Amur leopard is also intensely solitary, leading to difficulties in accurately estimating population sizes. But at present there are a mere 60 individuals estimated to be living in the wild.
Prey scarcity, poaching, logging
The major factor fuelling the leopard’s decline is the illegal wildlife trade; the fur of the Amur leopard is highly prized, leading to poaching. The problem of poaching is compounded by the ‘relative accessibility’ of the leopard’s forest home (WWF ). The poaching of prey species leads to a redoubled threat to the Amur leopards; they are hit both directly and indirectly by human activities. Unsustainable logging has also been suggested as a threat, through the damage it may exact upon the leopard’s forest habitat.
The ‘Land of the Leopard’
The WWF has a tripartite approach to conserving this rare leopard, namely through poaching policy, monitoring, and restoring habitat. In addition to enforcing trade restrictions on Amur leopard products, the wildlife organisation uses camera traps to monitor the leopards in situ (WWF ). The 2012 designation of a Russian National Park – the ‘Land of the Leopard’ – also marked a great leap forward in protecting the Amur leopard.
Through these international strategies, from zoological efforts to those in the field, it can be hoped that the decline of the Amur leopard may quickly be reversed- that this little known leopard can make a comeback at the pace it is famous for.