Slowly stalking down the snowy hillside, the Amur leopard watches its prey through the trees. In the clearing below, a sika deer munches on tree bark, one of its few remaining food sources during the cold Russian winter. The leopard crouches, its body so low to the ground that its belly fur brushes the snow. Suddenly it bounds and springs forward, tackling the deer from 10 feet away. It’s dinnertime.
- Common Name:
- Amur leopards
- Scientific Name:
- Panthera pardus orientalis
- Average Life Span In The Wild:
- 10 to 15 years
- 6 to 7 feet
- 70 to 105 pounds
Most people think of leopards prowling the savannas of Africa, but these spotted predators thrive in many different countries and habitats. Amur leopards can be found in the mountainous forests of eastern Russia and northern China. Named after the Amur River, a body of water that runs along the border of both countries, these cats are well adapted to this harsh environment. Their soft, dense fur keeps them warm in the bitter cold, and their large paws work like snowshoes to let them walk on snow without sinking.
Amur leopards weigh about 80 pounds, some 30 pounds less than the average African leopard. But these cats can still take down prey up to three times their size. They prefer to feast on deer and boar, but will eat rabbits and mice if they can’t find bigger game. Scientists sometimes call Amur leopards the “silent killer” since they’re so good at sneaking up on prey.
Loss of habitat and poaching have made Amur leopards one of the rarest wild cats on Earth—and the world’s rarest leopard. Thanks in part to a newly established national park along the Russian and Chinese border, however, Amur leopards are clawing their way back. Since the 647,400-acre refuge dubbed Land of the Leopard National Park was created in 2012, the Amur leopard population has jumped to about 80 individuals in 2018, up from only about 30 in the early 2000s. Officials believe that effective law enforcement in the park will help keep the population climbing. So hopefully, even more of these leopards will be spotted soon.