Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Amur Leopards Face Extinction

With only 30-35 individuals left in the wild, the Amur Leopard is the world’s most endangered cat of any size. On the brink of extinction, this beautiful cat, known by the scientific name panthera pardus orientalis, is one of the eight subspecies of leopards that range across Africa and Asia. Far only in Far Western Russia and North East China, this cat faces multiple threats, including a decrease in habitat and poaching. Though efforts are underway to save this magnificent creature, the Amur Leopard has been labeled as critically endangered by The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and success is far from assured.

Threats to the Amur Leopard

Loss of habitat can be considered to be the greatest threat to the Amur Leopard. The natural territory of these cats is limited to a stretch of land along the Russia-China border. In recent years, this area has been invaded by developers, loggers, and other humans. This drastically reduces the area in which the Amur Leopards can thrive.

Development, however, is not the only source of danger to the habitat of the Amur Leopard. Habitat loss is also due to forest fires. Some of these fires are naturally occurring, and as such are a part of nature. But a great many of these fires are started by humans, either accidentally or as a method of clearing land. This practice greatly endangers the Amur Leopard.

The decline in numbers have force wild leopards to inbreed in order to survive. Due to this, the Amur Leopards left in the wild have weaker genes than previous generations. Weaker genes mean that each leopard is more susceptible to illness and disease, leading to premature death.

The striking coat of the Amur Leopard is a prime target for poachers. Though illegal to sell, on the black market, the pelt of an adult Amur Leopard is worth a great deal of money. The financial incentive is usually all an unscrupulous poacher needs to justify the elimination of an endangered species. Add to that the local farmers, many of whom are only trying to protect their livestock, and the hunting of the Amur Leopard will quickly lead to extinction.

What is Being Done to Save the Amur Leopard?

There are approximately 300 Amur Leopards currently in captivity around the world. Most of these are located in zoos and conservation centers in North America, Europe, and Eastern Asia. For the most part, these zoos and centers are participating in breeding programs designed to increase the numbers of Amur Leopards, with the hopes of reintroducing them into the wild.

In addition to this long-term plan, there are already measures in place to attempt to protect the Amur Leopard. Anti-poaching efforts are currently underway in both Russia and China. There is also compensation offered to livestock owners who have lost members of their herds to tigers or leopards. This program has reduced the deaths of Amur Leopards due to local farmers.

Efforts are also being made to protect the habitat of the Amur Leopard. Nature reserves are being established, fire-fighting efforts have been increased, and local governments are being made aware of the consequences of developing the land the Amur Leopard needs to survive. All of this is being done in the hope of preserving the Amur Leopard for future generations.

The Amur Leopard is critically endangered. Though human activity is largely responsible for this, human intervention is necessary to the survival of this majestic species. Without this intervention, the Amur Leopard will not be around for future generations to enjoy.

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