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The Amur leopard

Of all the cats in the world the leopard has the widest distribution. Leopards were found in almost the whole of Africa and in large parts of Asia, ranging from Turkey and the Middle East to Indonesia and Russia. At one time there were thought to be over thirty distinct subspecies of leopard. Most cat specialists now believe that the majority of these subspecies are not valid; eight have been proposed instead (Miththapala and Seidensticker 1995), and revision of the taxonomy is still under debate. Of the eight subspecies the Far Eastern, or Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) shows the strongest and most divergence in coat pattern. The coat is typically pale-cream (especially in winter) and exhibits widely spaced rosettes with thick, unbroken rings and darkened centres. The length of the coat varies between 2.5cm in summer and 7.5cm in winter. Male Amur leopards weigh between 32-48 kg, with exceptionally large males up to 60-75 kg. Females are smaller than the males weighing between 25-43 kg. The main prey species of the Amur leopard are roe and sika deer along with hares and badgers. Whilst it has been found in other regions that leopards do not do well where they share territory with tigers this has not proved the case in Russia. Studies have indicated that an increased tiger population in Southwest Primorye area has not adversely affected the leopard population. Amur leopards in zoos show some evidence of breeding seasonalilty with a peak in births in late spring/early summer. After a gestation period of around 12 weeks cubs are born in litters of 1-4 individuals, with an average litter size of just over 2. The cubs will stay with their mother for up to two years before becoming fully independent. Females first breed at an age of 3-4 years. In the wild leopards live for between 10-15 years but may live to 20 years in captivity. The Amur leopard is listed as Endangered by the IUCN and is on CITES Appendix I for protection status. The major threats to survival are depletion of prey species, loss of habitat and conflict with humans. Additionally, the Amur leopard is threatened by the extremely small wild population size, which makes them vulnerable to “catastrophes” such as fire or disease, to chance variation in birth and death rates and ratios (eg all cubs born for two years might be male), and to inbreeding depression. Father-daughter and sibling matings have been observed and it is possible that this may lead to genetic problems including reduced fertility. Such matings do of course occur naturally to a certain extent in large cat populations, but in a very small population there is no possibility of subsequent outbreeding. Field survey data estimates that there are fewer than 50 leopards left in the wild, making the Amur leopard one of the world's most endangered cat taxa. There are approximately 200 Amur leopards in captivity, mostly in zoos in North America and throughout Europe.


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