Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) are critically endangered, with a wild population of only ~30 individuals remaining in a 3000 km2 area of Primorye, far eastern Russia. They are a distinct subspecies, and are the northernmost of all leopards. The Amur leopard’s original range extended throughout northeastern China and the Korean Peninsula. Now, all that is left is a remnant population in the most northeastern corner of its former range. Habitat destruction, intensive logging, fires, elimination of prey animals, and direct hunting (legal and illegal) have all contributed to the leopard’s population decline.
A number of efforts are being made to save Amur leopards. Teams in Russia are working to preserve the last remaining population, using a combination of: 1) anti-poaching and fire-fighting measures, 2) compensation for livestock killed by leopards and tigers, 3) education and awareness campaigns, 4) Amur leopard population monitoring, 5) ecological and health-related research, 6) support for protected areas, and 7) lobbying for improved conservation policies and regulations. It is also hoped that Amur leopards from zoo stocks can be reintroduced to a nature reserve that used to support a wild leopard population.
The Minnesota Zoo is one of thirteen coalition members of the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA). We have been successful in raising funds for groups that carry out conservation efforts on the ground: Phoenix Fund, Tigris Foundation, Zoological Society of London, and Wildlife Conservation Society. We also hope to raise awareness by educating zoo visitors about the plight of Amur leopards. Guests can read about these rare cats in the Russia’s Grizzly Coast log cabin and can donate money for their conservation. The Minnesota Zoo is also contributing to Amur leopard conservation by breeding genetically valuable cubs, that we hope may be able to contribute to reintroduction efforts in the Russian Far East.