XL: Last of the Leopards

If you were to look at a list of endangered species, you’d see a whole heck of a lot of names. The most extreme category below extinction, critical endangerment, contains 16 species by itself. The most endangered of all is the Amur leopard, native to the far eastern temperate forests of Russia. Only 30 individuals are thought to exist.

Like many leopards, the Amur leopard is a fast runner, reaching speeds of 37 miles per hour. It can jump up to 19 feet in the air and leap forward as far as 10 feet. Unlike many other species of leopards, however, the Amur leopard is adapted to life in cooler climates, rather than hot jungles. With a lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild, it is a solitary hunter with a diet consisting primarily of small deer species, as well as rabbits, wild boar, and even badgers.

The Amur leopard’s scarcity is due to both poaching and overhunting of its prey by humans. As the Amur leopard’s habitat becomes more and more populated and agriculturalized, humans hunt off the leopard’s food so they themselves can eat, particularly the roe deer, sika deer, and wild hare. The leopard itself is hunted for its beautiful spotted fur. An Amur leopard skin can easily sell for $1000 on the black market.

In 2012, Russia sectioned off all of the Amur leopards’ breeding territory and 60% of their remaining habitat and declared these 650,000 acres the Land of the Leopard National Park in an effort to save the world’s rarest wild cat. 8 of these elusive beauties have so far been spotted by motion-activated cameras left in the park, as well as 10 Siberian tigers, which are also endangered. This sanctuary built just to save the Amur leopard is a step toward rebuilding the population, as is China’s effort to release more sika deer into the wild to replace the prey animals hunted by humans so the leopards have more food to eat and a better chance of survival.

You can symbolically adopt one of these cuties here through the World Wildlife Fund, or symbolically adopt a one of America’s 5 captive Amur leopards here through the Greenville Zoo in Greenville, South Carolina.

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