Amur leopard skin

Russia is probably home to the world's second largest population of wolves after Kazakstan. There are an estimated 45,000 wolves in Russia and 90,000 to 100,000 wolves in Kazakhstan. An estimated 15,000 wolves were killed by hunters in Russia and Kazakhstan in 1998 alone. Wolves are so numerous in Siberia that the authorities offer bounties to keep their population in check.

Russian naturalists Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov wrote: In parts of Siberia and the Russian Far East: “The reindeer industry used every means possible to fight wolves, from poisoning them to shooting them from helicopters. Huge amounts of money were spent on this. There were also seminars, competitions for the best wolf hunter, and other measures taken to limit wolf numbers. But the efforts fell far short of the intended results. Now almost no effort is being made to deal with wolves. They have moved in like a flood, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Urals, where there are reports of huge numbers of wolves the likes of which have not been seen since the Second World War. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

Amur Leopard

The Amur leopard inhabits an 800-mile long stretch of evergreen forest in the eastern Siberian taiga near the North Korean border. Named after the river that forms the border between Russia and China, they live in a narrow mountain chain that extends from Hanka Lake in the Russian Far East south to the borders of China and North Korea. It ranges further north than any leopard species, even the snow leopard.

Amur leopards weighs between 40 and 60 kilograms (90 and 140 pounds). They are reclusive, solitary creatures. They eat sitka deer and wild boars. Their numbers have declined as the numbers of their main food source, roe deer, have declined. They also suffer from declining numbers of sitka deer and wild boars. Leopards eat dogs of villagers to survive. Sometimes they are forced to make a single meal last for two weeks. Other times they reduced to scavenging for carrion. Its winter coat has large spots.

Only 38 to 46 Amur leopard are believed ti remain. Twenty to twenty-four in Russia. Fifteen in China and an unknown number in North Korea. They have been hurt by loss of habitat, loss of prey and poaching. Around 30 Amur leopards live in an area which borders China and is 150 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide. At least 16 live in Nezhinkoye game reserve. This area contains many villages and is crisscrossed by roads, making survival problematic

Protecting the Amur Leopard

Amur leopard

Environmentalists have trouble securing funds to study the leopards. Most of what is known about them is based on studies conducted at Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve near Vladivostok. The Russian Academy of Science, the University of California and the International Wildlife Congress are studying the leopards using “phototraps” — motion sensitive cameras.

Many surviving Amur leopards live In the Nezhinkoye game reserve that is under partial protection of the Russian Pacific fleet. Hunting with dogs and hunting for fur animals is banned in the reserve. Deer and wild boars are fed. Some leopards used to follow hunters in hopes of snatching an easy meal.

Work on the world’s longest pipeline — between Siberia and the Sea of Japan — was suspended in 2005 due to ecological concerns, among them the fate of the Amur leopard, whose territory would be bisected by the pipeline.

Snow Leopard

Snow leopards are one of the world's rarest, most elusive and little studied large animals. They are generally very shy and well camouflaged, and hardly ever seen. Most encounters involve villagers looking for firewood or herding animals. The first photograph of one in the wild was taken in 1970 by the legendary zoologist George Schaller. Snow leopards prefer crags and ridges in steppe, rocky shrubs and open conifer forests at altitudes at around 3,500 (11,480 feet) to 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) but have been observed in mountains over 6000 meters (19,700 feet). In the winter they descend to lower elevations. [Source: Douglas Chadwick, National Geographic, June 2008]

Sparsely distributed across the high mountains of a dozen countries in south and central Asia, snow leopards are considered an endangered species. They range across 1 million square miles in portions if 12 nations in some of the world’s greatest mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Karakorum, Kunlun, Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Tian Shan and the Altai between Russia and Mongolia and the Sayan chain west of Lake Baikal. Most of their range is severely fragmented. They favor steep, rocky slopes and alpine steppes above tree line. Their tracks have been found at altitudes higher than 19,000 feet. They have been seen in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Altai region of Russia.

Researchers estimate that the population has fallen by at least 20 percent in the last 16 years and now stands somewhere between 4,500 and 7,500 free-living cats, but Dr. Schaller said, “those figures are just wild guesses.” The number today is thought to be half the number as a century ago. The largest numbers are thought to be in China and Tibet, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. There are an estimated be 800 to 1,700 in Mongolia. In five of the 12 countries in which they reside there may be fewer than 200 left.

Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times, "To Americans, snow leopards are perhaps the most beloved members of the great cat club, the exclusive group that includes tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. Snow leopards retain the majesty and fluid, predatory elegance of the other big cats while incorporating touches of panda-esque cuteness, the incidental result of adaptations to the cold. [Source: Natalie Angier New York Times, July 25, 2011]

There is a snow leopard research camp on the Yenisey River near the Mongolia border. Snow leopards are called “shan” in Ladakh, “irbis” in Mongolia, and “barfano chita”—“snow cheetah”—in Urdu. Helen Freeman of the International Snow Leopard Trust was quoted in “Wild Cats of the World”: “We feel the spirit of the mountains. In the cat there is a freedom to roam a region that is rugged and wild and often defies you to put one foot in front of the other, let alone leap. And the animal lives there, not with destruction, but with beauty.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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