A male Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) at the Philadelphia Zoo. To the best of my knowledge this animal is not involved in any breeding or conservation programs.
According to LiveScience, a female Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) was captured, examined, and released by WCS workers this week. The leopards, being among the most endangered of big cats and estimated to number less than 40 individuals in the wild, are most likely inbreeding to continue their population, a problem that could have devastating long-term repercussions. While it is not clear whether the problem is being inherited or has some other cause, the captured leopard had a hear murmur, although sonogram images of the heart are being studied to determine if the cat really has the problem and how severe it is.
As with many animals that experience near-extinction from hunting, fragmentation of habitat, and inbreeding, things look bleak for these leopards, the main hope for the continued survival of the animals being the more than 130 animals currently existing in captivity. While current efforts are primarily aimed at reducing hunting pressure (which doesn’t always work as a female leopard was shot and beaten to death earlier this year), conservation biologists will have to start reintroducing leopards into the wild if the population is to rebound. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, if there are not several well-established populations and the remaining group undergoes significant amount of inbreeding, they could still be in great danger as their population numbers rise. The WCS page about Amur Leopards states that a breeding center is planned as well as the establishment of a second population, but so little is known about the remaining big cats that it’s difficult to know what will happen if captive-born leopards are introduced into the wild, but the situation for the wild populations is not improving with time. I do not wish to be a pessimist and I really do wish that stronger initiatives are taken to restore a healthy wild population of Amur Leopards, but the possibility that we could lose these big cats is all-too-real. Many of you probably saw a mother and her cub on the BBC’s Planet Earth series, and if you have a copy you may eventually own some of the last known footage of these animals if things do not improve;