Amur leopard

Panthera pardus orientalis

The Amur leopard is indigenous to the rocky mountain woodlands along the border of southeastern Russia and northeastern China. It shares part of its territory with the Amur tiger. One of nine subspecies of leopards, it is the rarest of the world's big cats. An estimated 50-60 individuals remain in Land of the Leopard National Park near Vladivostok, Russia, and approximately 10-12 individuals have been counted in adjacent areas of China.

Life of an Amur leopard

Living in an extreme environment with harsh winters and hot summers, Amur leopards have adapted fur that responds to the season. Their fur is only about an inch long in the summer but grows to a warm 2 ¾ inches in length as the cold moves in during winter. The pale color of their fur helps camouflage them in snow.

Because their legs are longer than other leopards, Amur leopards are able to walk easily through snow. They climb using specialized muscles attached to their scapulae, or shoulder blades. They run in bursts of up to 37 miles per hour, are expert swimmers and climbers, and can jump 20 feet horizontally and 10 feet vertically. Males are larger than females, weighing between 82 and 198 pounds, while females weigh between 62 and 132 pounds.

Like all leopards, Amur leopards have massive heads with powerful jaw and neck muscles. Their tremendous strength allows them to tackle prey up to 10 times their own weight. Their heightened vision and hearing helps them to find their prey in dense forests. They mark their 30-square-mile territory with urine, feces, and claw marks.

Amur leopards hunt alone, crouching low to the ground and getting as close as 10 feet from their prey before pouncing on it. They hunt ungulates, animals with hooves—including roe deer, Sitka deer, and musk deer. After breaking the neck of their prey, they hide the carcass. They may go on hunting, and have been known to hide several carcasses before eating any of them.

A female first breeds at 3-4 years of age and is pregnant for 90 to 105 days. She gives birth to between 1 and 4 cubs. Leopard cubs are helpless at birth. They weigh less than 2 pounds and their eyes remain closed for the first week. As they grow, the mother sometimes hides them in rock clefts or tree hollows for several hours while she hunts and feeds. To protect them from tigers and other predators, she moves the den site often. Cubs learn to walk at 2 weeks, are weaned by 3 months, and stay with their mother for 18 to 24 months while she teaches them to hunt before they leave and establish territories of their own.

Amur leopards live 10 to 15 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years, with an average life expectancy of 14-16 years.  

Amur leopard conservation

Listed as Critically Endangered, the Amur leopard is at extreme risk of extinction. About 50-60 remain in the wild – that's fewer than the number of people who fit in a school bus or on a single car of a MAX train.

This small population of Amur leopards is losing habitat from road-building and logging. They are hunted for their coats and for their bones, which are used in traditional Asian medicine. Decreasing numbers of native deer, their primary food, has forced them to hunt domesticated livestock, which leads to persecution by local farmers. With so few animals available to breed, genetic variation is dangerously low, and they are vulnerable to chance events, like epidemics or large wildfires.

Amur leopards in European, North American and Asian zoos are participating in managed conservation breeding programs to help preserve the species and add to its genetic diversity. The Amur leopards at the Oregon Zoo are part of the Species Survival Plan for Amur leopards with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

How you can help Amur leopards

Amur leopards are losing their forest habitat to logging. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label to help ensure that the wood products you purchase are "friendly" to forests. FSC standards help limit clear cuts, combat illegal logging and ensure that biological diversity is protected. Learn more.

Amur leopards at the Oregon Zoo

The Oregon Zoo's Amur leopards, Kia and Boris, live in the Amur Cats habitat. Borris and Kia's keepers offer them daily enrichment to engage all their senses and keep them physically and mentally active.

Environmental enrichment includes different perfumes (Borris especially likes the muskier colognes like Old Spice), feathers dropped from birds in the Zoo's collection, hard plastic moveable toys like balls and bobbins, visual stimulation like the African Pygmy goats walking past (Kia's favorite) and wind socks on the roof. Kia and Borris like to listen to CDs of nature and wild animal sounds, and smell a variety of spices as well as urines from other species. To keep Borris and Kia engaged in their environment and "foraging" for prey like leopards do in the wild, they are fed novel food items like whole prey of quail or rabbits, partial carcass feeds, bones, and even hanging food items from a zip line in the leopard habitat.