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Neat to know ~ Creature of the week

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Amur Leopard, Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria

Photo: Alexander Leisser, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Amur Leopard and

the IUCN


The Amur leopard (Panthera Pardus Orientalis) is also known as the Manchurian leopard, the Korean leopard, and the Far East leopard. It is the rarest of the big cats, and one of the most critically endangered species on the planet, according to the IUCN (read more about this organization below).  The Amur leopard is almost extinct, mainly due to habitat loss, climate change, and its magnificent coat, which has been the prize of poachers for decades. 

Only around 100 of these elusive hunters still live in the wild.

Read more about the Amur leopard, as well as about the IUCN, the organization that works to track population sizes of threatened species

The northernmost leopard

– The Amur leopard is a subspecies of the leopard.  It used to inhabit the vast forests of Eastern Siberia, as well as northeastern China and the whole of the Korean peninsula.  Currently, however, its range is just a small fraction of what it used to be.  It has been spotted in the border regions of the Russian Far East and northeastern China.  There might be a few Amur leopards remaining in North Korea, too.  A single leopard might claim and defend an area as large as almost 60 square miles (150 square kilometers).

– This big cat thrives in temperate forests, where the climate brings seasonal variations in temperature and precipitation levels. It has adapted to changes in season, growing a long, lush, light-colored coat in the winter and then shedding much of its pelt to adjust to warm summer temperatures.  When the snow is gone, the color of its fur becomes a red-yellow, which allows it to blend in with its surroundings. 

– The Amur leopard has adapted in other ways to its environment.  It has longer legs than its leopard cousins in other parts of the world.  This adaptation helps it to walk in the deep snows of northern Asia.  It has an enormous fluffy tail that it can wrap around itself as protection from the harsh elements.  Its coat has larger, more widely-spaced rosettes than do the coats of other leopards; these provide camouflage within its forest habitat.

– One reason that Amur leopards are so rarely seen in the wild is that they live very solitary lives.  They are fleet-footed and powerful, able to climb, duck, leap, and hide in and amongst the shadowy forest flora.  These carnivores are lone hunters, who usually prowl for prey under the cover of night.  Roe deer, wild boar, badgers, and hares, must stay alert, for they are the ones targeted most often by these strong and stealthy predators. Amur leopards are lightning-fast sprinters – able to reach 37 miles/hour (60 km/hr.) in short bursts – as well as superb swimmers.  

– Only when it comes to family, do Amur leopards keep company with others of their kind.  Cubs are born in litters of 1-4 young; they stay with their mothers for up to two years.  Sometimes, males have been observed staying with females for a while after mating and even helping out after the birth of the cubs.

– Many Amur leopards have strikingly light, bluish-greenish eyes.

– Most males are between 70 and 100 lbs. (32-48 kg); the largest males can reach 165 lbs. (75 kg).  Females weigh 55-95 lbs. (25-43 kg).

– Amur leopards live 10-15 years in the wild (5-10 years longer in captivity).

Will they vanish forever?

– There are almost no Amur leopards remaining in the wild.  In the 1970s and early ’80s, they lost 80% of their habitat.  Unrestrained logging, raging forest fires, and the clearing of land for farming and industry all but annihilated their home territory.  Moreover, the killing of thousands of these big cats for their rare fur ramped up.  At one point, there were only 30 Amur leopards left.

– Thanks to conservation efforts, numbers seem to be slowly improving.  Currently, there are almost 100 in the wild.  That number is still dismaying, and the Amur leopard remains on the edge of extinction, but if the world pays attention and supports the work of conservationists, these magnificent cats could make a comeback.  One reason for this is that there are still sizeable areas of land left, particularly in China, where the Amur leopard could find suitable habitat.  A vital factor determining the survival of these leopards is the abundance of the prey that they depend upon for food.  Many of the animals that Amur leopards hunt have been indiscriminately poached, too.  For one species to survive, its whole ecosystem must remain intact. People can help make this possible by preserving the forests and all the creatures that live there and that have a place on the food chain. 

– We are able to know how many Amur leopards remain in the wild thanks to the IUCN, an organization that keeps track of species around the world and that generates the IUCN Red List, which names species that are at different levels of endangerment.  This resource is crucial to the efforts of conservationists.  Read on to find out more about what the IUCN does and what is contained in the Red List.


The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, is a group of nearly 1500 member organizations and over 18,000 scientists and other experts who work together to track the status of plant and animal species across the planet.  The group does not have legal power, but it is uniquely influential.  The data gathered by the IUCN is considered to be the most authoritative in the world, and governments use it to make decisions about conservation in their countries.  Non-governmental groups also use the findings of the IUCN in their educational efforts, their campaigns to help species, and their research.

The Mission Statement of the IUCN, displayed on their website, IUCN.org, is to “influence, encourage, and assist societies to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.”

What is the IUCN Red List?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species – also known as the IUCN Red List – has been keeping track of statistics related to the conservation status of species since 1964.  Despite its name, the IUCN Red List is not just a list; it is the most trusted resource in the world informing the environmental decisions of individuals, groups, and even governments.  It provides essential data such as the size of species’ habitats, what particular factors are threatening species, and the success or failure of past conservation efforts.  It groups species in one of the following categories:

– “Data Deficient” (DD) – There isn’t enough information to be able to assess the status of the species.

– “Least Concern” (LC) – The species is not considered to be endangered.

– “Near Threatened” (NT) – Data show that the species is on track to being endangered in the near future.

– “Vulnerable” (V) – There are less than 10,000 adult members of the species left in the wild, and the species faces a high likelihood of extinction.

– “Endangered” (E) – There are less than 2,500 adult members of the species left in the wild and the species faces a very high likelihood of extinction.

– “Critically Endangered” (CR) – There are less than 250 adult members of the species left in the wild.  Most likely, the species will become extinct.

– “Extinct in the Wild” (EW) – There are no members of the species left in the wild.  The only ones left are in captivity.

– “Extinct” (E) – There are no members of the species left anywhere in the world.

Such data come from researchers who work to gather as many facts and figures about species as they can by being out in the field.  Their work takes time and funding.  To date, there are 138,000 species that have been assessed.  The goal of the organization is to gather data on at least 160,000 species. 

The results of the IUCN’s work show that we are in a race against time, when it comes to saving a multitude of species from vanishing forever.  According to the IUCN Red List, more than 38,500 species are on the brink of extinction.  This includes “…41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 26% of all mammals, and 14% of birds.” (from IUCNredlist.org ).

But despite these dire figures, conservation does work. 

– The American bald eagle had almost been killed off by heavy pesticide use in areas where they nested, as well as by habitat destruction and hunting.  There were only 500 nesting pairs remaining in the wild.  Then, the U.S. put in place laws protecting the bird, and in a period of 34 years, the American bald eagle was no longer an endangered species.

– The Arabian oryx, which is a kind of antelope that lived in the Middle East, disappeared completely in the 1960s, mainly due to trophy hunting.  It was officially named, “extinct in the wild” by the IUCN.  That’s when efforts were made to take Arabian oryx that were living in zoos and nature preserves in other parts of the world and return them to the wild.  Between 1980 and 2011, the population of Arabian oryx grew to 1000 in the wild.  This brought the species up to the “vulnerable” status.  Never before had an animal that had been classified as extinct in the wild made a comeback as dramatic as this.

– And all is not yet lost for the Amur leopard, either.  Spread the word about the plight of this critically endangered big cat.

Sources: WWF, “Amur Leopard, Probably the World’s Rarest Cat,” https://www.wwf.org.uk/amur-leopardsWildcats Conservation Alliance, “Amur Leopard Facts,” https://conservewildcats.org/amur-leopard/Audubon Nature Institute, “Meet the Animals – Zoo; Amur Leopard,” https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/zoo/amur-leopardWWF, “Amur Leopard,” https://wwf.panda.org/amur_leopard/; IUCN.org, “International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), https://www.iucn.org/about; Main, Douglas, National Geographic, “How do we decide which species are endangered or threatened?” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article, April 22, 2019.