The Amur leopard, Panthera Pardus Orientalis, is the rarest big cat in the world and yet is still a relatively unknown species of leopard outside of its homeland in Russia. Also known as the Far Eastern leopard the approximate population stands at about 35 individuals remaining in the wild. These leopards now only exist in the southern most tip of the Russian Far East along the borders with China in the Khasan Region of Primorsky Krai.
With its long winter coat the Amur leopard is well adapted to the harsh climate of the Amur-Ussuri region. The hairs of its summer coat are 2.5 cm long whereas in the winter they grow to 7 cm long when it also lightens to a pale cream colour. Its fur has larger and more widely spaced rosettes than other leopards, with thick dark borders. It also has longer legs, probably an adaptation for walking through snow. The male Amur leopard weighs between 32-48 kg, with exceptionally large males up to 60-75 kg. Females are smaller than the males weighing between 25-43 kg.
Amur Leopards tend to avoid living or hunting too close to tiger territory to avoid direct competition for prey. They normally hunt at night using the silent stalk and ambush technique, one that is also used by the tiger. During the attack phase the leopard may reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour but this is sustainable only for a very short time. The main prey species of the Amur leopard are roe deer, red deer, musk deer, sika deer, wild boar, hares and badgers. Leopards are adapted for their carnivorous diet. They have large, powerful jaws and long pointed canine teeth to help them grab and hold their prey. The premolars in the back of their mouth have surfaces specially designed for shearing and chewing meat and are referred to as ‘carnassial’ teeth. They also have sharp, pointed papillae on their tongue to help them remove meat from bones.
Deforestation, the use of animal parts for traditional medicine and conflict with humans has had a devastating effect on the Amur leopard population. There has also been a drastic reduction in the number of prey species, and further disruption due to mineral extraction and extensive road building. The Amur leopard has been a protected species in Russia since 1956, but still there is a problem with poaching.
There are nearly 200 Amur leopards in the captive population worldwide, many of which are in European zoos. The European population is managed by Europaeisches Erhaltungszucht Programme an organized captive breeding program. Unfortunately the captive population of Amur leopards comes from only 9 wild-born founders, and therefore, several of the animals are considered highly inbred. There is a proposal to capture some wild Amur leopards to place in zoos to provide additional founders from the wild. The Amur leopard in captivity may live for 20 years or more while in the wild they are believed to survive for anything up to 12 years.
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