The Amur leopard is about as rare as big cats get – estimates suggest between 30 – 40 of the leopards remain in the wild, all around the Russian-Chinese border.
Yet this critically endangered beast is still out there, for those who look hard enough. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) today released the photo you see above (amongst others): an Amur leopard trotting through the Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve in Jilin Province in northern China. It’s the first ever shot of an Amur leopard in the reserve.
While this was snapped in China, most of the Amur leopards live on the Russian side of the border. Last winter, 29 of the cats were captured by cameras that are hidden in a Russian park dedicated to conserving the animal. Perhaps it is no surprise that Russia is home for most of these handsome animals – the Amur is native to the southwestern Primorye region of Russia. It’s estimated that between 8 and 11 live in the Jilin Chinese province.
The Amur leopard has been classified as critically endangered since 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As usual, it’s pesky old humans that are causing issues for the cats – Amur leopards are threatened by poaching, encroaching civilization, new roads, exploitation of forests and climate change.
Yet tigers also play a part, and have been known to kill leopards if densities of large and medium-sized prey species are low. Competition between both predators supposedly decreases in summer, when small prey species are more available. In winter, conditions tend to be less favorable for the leopards.
These pictures suggest that the population of the animal may be increasing in the region. Let’s hope so!