About the Far Eastern leopard

About the Far Eastern leopard

20 January 2013

The leopard’s worldwide habitat is larger than any other feline’s, with the exception of the domestic cat. Leopards can be found in almost all of Africa and South Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula. In Russia, they are found in the Far East and the Caucasus. Genetic analysis has made it possible to distinguish nine subspecies: African, Indochinese, Javan, Indian, Sri Lankan, North Chinese, Far Eastern (Amur), Persian, and Arabian.

The Far Eastern leopard’s habitat is the northernmost of all, stretching north of 45 degrees N latitude. The earliest accounts of the Far Eastern leopard in Europe came from Marco Polo in the 13th century, who told of the tame leopards at Kublai Khan’s court, in Mongolia’s east, and in Beijing.

The Far Eastern (Amur) subspecies was first described by Hermann Schlegel in 1857 on the basis of a pelt and a skull found among the illustrations in a deer hunting manual in Chosen, North Korea.


The Far Eastern leopard could be found in the south of Sikhote Alin, and in the west and southwest of Primorye in the Russian Far East up to the middle of the 19th century. Renowned explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky (1839-1888) wrote about it:

“Leopards (tsing tseng pau, in Chinese) are widespread in the entire Ussuri Territory. They also appear, though very rarely, in the middle reaches of the Amur River. The tiger population is incomparably larger. Leopards roam the deep wilderness and do not approach human dwellings even in winter, with few exceptions. They occur more often in the South Ussuri Territory than along the Ussuri River, and are sparse in both areas. I saw leopard tracks only twice on my journey in the Ussuri Territory, and purchased only one pelt in very bad condition, with half of the tail torn off. Its length, minus tail, is 5 feet 5 inches [135 cm]. Hairs on the nape are 40-45 mm long, on the back 50-60 mm, edging the abdomen 50-60 mm, and on the tail 45-50 mm. A leopard pelt costs an average 15-20 silver roubles here. Manchurian merchants are as eager to buy them as tiger pelts and send them to China.”


A campaign to exterminate all predators was launched throughout the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Hunting the Far Eastern leopard was allowed until 1956. A count conducted in the 1970s revealed a depressing figure: there were 30 or even less leopards surviving in Primorye. The subspecies was urgently added to the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Russia’s Red Data Book, and other wildlife protection acts.


A permanent expedition of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution has been studying leopards in the Russian Far East for two years now. The taskforce began observations on a small strip of land in southwestern Primorye in 2010. The exploration area covers about a quarter of the present Far Eastern leopard habitat. Photo traps made it possible to identify 24 animals. Another five were placed in satellite collars to track them as they roam. Four out of the five no longer work due to empty batteries, and one of the collared leopards was killed.
Until recently, zoologists considered Far Eastern leopards solitary animals. The latest research, however, showed that home ranges overlap within one sex, while male ranges enclose their female mates’ ones.


The current Far Eastern leopard habitat is roughly 400,000 hectares. Given the lack of space and dwindling of the leopard population over the generations, grown cubs no longer settle far enough from their parents. That is why inbreeding has become an acute threat, impeding health and reproduction. Six leopards caught during the first expedition year were infected with the feline leukemia virus, which can stamp animal populations out of existence, and other contagious diseases.


Land of the Leopard National Park was established in April 2012 on the basis of three conservation areas: the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve, established early in the 20th century, and two game reserves – Barsovy and the Borisovskoye Plateau. The construction of a new office building and research and tourist facilities will begin this year. Park staff intends to establish five mobile cordons and place another 60 photo traps. A protected buffer zone established in Land of the Leopard this year mitigates the industrial impact on leopards. Their customary prey are fed in the park. These and other efforts are intended to preserve and grow the leopard population.


From the Vokrug Sveta monthly