With only 25 to 40 Amur leopards left, this animal is the rarest cat in the world and may not be around much longer without some major protection efforts. The leopard’s gorgeous spotted fur makes it a favorite for poachers, who can sell the hides of this endangered species for about $1,000. It’s illegal to sell Amur leopard skins; but sadly, people still do.
Amur leopards live in the forests of eastern Russia and China. Some of them roam close to farms and villages so they’re easy targets for hunters. On top of that, poachers hunt the deer and hare that Amur leopards eat, making it harder for the big cats to survive.
Human development has also put a serious dent in the Amur leopard population. Logging, natural-gas pipelines and railroads have all encroached on the cats’ natural territory. Disease has also posed a threat, as has inbreeding — with such a small population, it’s hard to find a mate who’s not related.
Amur leopards are solitary animals, but males and females sometimes stay together after mating to raise their cubs. The adult male cats weigh about 110 to 120 pounds, and the females are smaller at 65 to 75 pounds.
Saving the World’s Rarest Cat
The World Wildlife Fund is also fighting to keep the world’s rarest cat from dying out completely, and supports anti-poaching efforts while monitoring the population. Along with other conservation groups, WWF also successfully stopped production of a pipeline that would have devastated their environment.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has been tracking Amur leopards since 1997 to gather data about their territory and population size. They also work with local hunting associations to help save leopard and tiger populations in the area.
The WWF has camera traps set up in the leopards’ habitat, and provided the spectacular footage seen here. The “traps” don’t actually catch the big cats, just record them. (The name refers to “capturing” footage, not animals!)