In this lesson, we’ll be learning about one of the most endangered species in the world, the Amur leopard. We’ll examine reasons the Amur leopard is endangered and how we are helping to save it.
What Is the Amur Leopard?
Stalking through the cold forests of eastern Russia and northern China lives a supreme predator.
Even though it spans seven feet from head to tail, this large cat easily climbs tall trees, where it’s on the lookout for prey. A thick coat of orange, yellow, and black spots keep the Amur leopard warm, and long legs allow it to easily stride through deep snow in the Siberian forest. Few animals can survive the harsh winters of Russia, but the Amur leopard’s thick fur, large paws, and long legs allow it to carve out a home, even in the thickest of snowfalls.
Reasons for Endangerment
The Amur leopard is a top predator in its ecosystem, hunting sika and roe deer. No other animals hunt the Amur leopard, although it does compete for space and prey with the Amur tiger. Regions with Amur tiger populations tend to have less Amur leopards.
It’s not that the tigers prey on leopards, but rather compete with them for resources.However, there is one predator of the Amur leopard that is causing their numbers to decline: humans. Humans are not only hunting Amur leopards to extinction, they are also causing damaging changes to their habitat. Let’s take a closer look.
Being at the top of the food chain, the Amur leopard might lack natural predators, but humans, the ultimate predators on Earth, still threaten the cat’s existence. Humans have been actively poaching, or illegally hunting, the Amur leopard for the past 60-70 years.
Although most people do not support the fur trade today, it was once a booming industry. Pelts from animals currently endangered were all the rage, and Amur leopard fur was in high demand.
Today, hunting Amur leopards is illegal and met with a hefty fine in the leopard’s native countries. In Russia, the fine for poaching the Amur leopard increased to about $15,000 USD in 2009. However, such measures are only meant to deter poachers. It’s difficult to actually enforce poaching laws because it can be hard to prove that the animal was actually hunted and not simply found dead in the wild.
Climate change is caused by global warming, an increase in global temperature. Climate change is causing more glacial melting, which disrupts the Amur leopard’s snowy habitat in the north.
Although we may think that warmer temperatures would make life a little easier in the cold, Russian forest, the Amur leopard is adapted to the habitat as it is. Changes in climate and habitat occur faster than the species can adapt, which may ultimately result in extinction.
Although all leopard populations are on the decline, human populations continue to soar. With increased numbers of humans comes an increased need for space, food, and water. Habitat destruction occurs when humans encroach on leopard territories, cutting down trees and dismantling their habitat for a more urban jungle. Humans also hunt the prey of the Amur leopard, leading to decreased food sources for the big cat.
Although there are very few Amur leopards left, they have made a significant recovery in recent years. In 2015, scientists placed hidden cameras around 900,000 acres of Amur leopard habitat. After reviewing thousands of images, the scientists identified 60 individual cats based on their unique coat patterns. Although 60 individuals of any species is low, that’s double what the population was in 2007!So, how did scientists help the Amur leopard recover? The main strategy was the establishment of a national park in Russia in 2012, Land of the Leopard National Park, which provided thousands of acres of protected habitat for the leopard.
Increasing the potential range of the Amur leopard is important, as currently its range is less than 3% of what it was prior to 1970. With human activity outlawed in the new preserve, the leopards are able to reproduce and start to recover their population.
The Amur leopard is one of the world’s most endangered species, with only about 60 individuals remaining today. Living in the cold forests of Russia and China, this species has unique adaptations such as large paws, long legs, and thick fur to help it survive.
Unfortunately, humans are poaching leopards to near extinction, despite hefty fines being established. Global warming is also changing the leopard’s habitat faster than the species can adapt. Habitat destruction due to increased human populations is also a major threat.