The Amur leopard is one of the rarest “big cats” on Earth. Pocock gave it its name in 1930 while researching the leopard specimens collected in a museum in London. By referring to ‘Amur’, he specifically meant the leopard skin obtained from Russia’s Amur region.
Until 1985, ‘Amur’ was a common name used to denote all leopard species in the Eastern Siberian region, as well as those in zoos worldwide. They are even called Far Eastern Leopard, Korean Leopard, and Siberian Leopard, after their places of origin.
Height ‐ Male: 42–54 in (107–136 cm); Female: 29-43 in (73 – 110 cm)
Body and Coloration: These small-sized leopards have thick, soft fur alongside widely spaced rosettes or black spots covering their head, tail, legs, and back.
Their coat color changes seasonally, light yellow in winter to a deep reddish-yellow during summer. Similarly, their hair length is about 1 inch in summer, increasing to 3 inches during the colder months.
Their canine teeth in front are sharp, helping them to kill prey.
They have retractable claws for climbing trees and gaining traction on slippery areas.
The Amur leopard’s long legs make it easy to walk in the snow.
Its fur gets thicker and longer in winter, providing warmth. The fur even serves as a perfect camouflage against the snowy landscape.
The tiny hooks or denticles covering their tongues help scrape meat off their prey’s bones.
Mating and Reproduction
The mating season begins in the latter half of winter. Several males sometimes fight over a prospective mate. After mating, the female builds a den, preferably using stones and overhanging rocks to give birth.
Their gestation period lasts around 12 weeks, following which a litter of 2-3 cubs is born. Some males stay with their partners even after mating, often helping them rear their young. Cubs stay with their mother until 18 to 24 months, after which they thrive on their own Most of them mature sexually by the time they are 3 and can reproduce up to 10–15 years of age.
The IUCN lists the Amur leopard as “CR” or “Critically Endangered.” Several threats have left the species near extinction. These include:
Poaching for their skin and fur.
Loss of forests due to degradation caused by human-induced fires.
Inbreeding, which has led to a loss of genetic diversity.
Conservation efforts have been made to control their population, like reducing illegal logging practices in Russia and China and levying harsh penalties and jail time on poachers.
These leopards support keeping the balance of species in the areas where they are present, helping to maintain the health of the forests and the area’s environments. Hence, conserving them becomes a priority.
How many of them are there left?
There are around 100 Amur leopards in the wild, and 180 in captivity.
In many Korean folk paintings in the Joseon Dynasty, Amur leopards, featured prominently.
They even featured in The Last Leopard, a 2008-documentary of Animal Planet, highlighting their plight.