Amur Leopard: The Rarest Big Cat in the World

By: Sascha Bos  | 
Spotted wildcat walking through greenery and looking up
The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is the rarest and northernmost of nine recognized leopard subspecies. Billy Currie Photography / Getty Images

The Amur leopard might be the rarest big cat in the world. Found in just a small swath of land where Russia, China and North Korea meet, the Amur leopard is famously secretive, which is how it stalks its prey and protects itself from poachers.

Learn more about these critically endangered big cats.

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Amur Leopard Basics

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis), also known as the Far Eastern leopard, is the rarest and northernmost of nine recognized leopard subspecies.

Other leopard subspecies include the critically endangered Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) and the endangered Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas).

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Because the Amur leopard habitat is the cold taiga, these leopards have thicker fur than other species.

Leopards are territorial and solitary animals, with male Amur leopards occupying the larger territories than females. Amur leopard cubs live with their mothers for about two years.

What Do Amur Leopards Eat?

According to Land of the Leopard National Park in Russia, where the majority of wild Amur leopards live, Amur leopards hunt more than 20 species. Roe deer and sika deer make up the majority of their diet, but they also eat amphibians, fish, rodents and wild boar.

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Where Do Amur Leopards Live?

Most of the Panthera pardus orientalis species live in Land of the Leopard National Park in the Russian Far East. Smaller populations exist in northeast China and North Korea. The Amur leopard's preferred habitat is mountain cliffs near the borders of these countries.

Because leopards are so elusive, it can be difficult to gather population data. A 2016 study looked at local records from Northeast China from the 1950s to the 1990s to find "a sharp decline after the 1970s ... from the plain to the mountain and northeast to southwest, which implies negative impact from anthropogenic pressure."

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Human encroachment on Amur leopard territory also led to population decline in Russia, where it was killed for competing with hunters and endangering reindeer herds.

A 2022 study examined Amur leopard DNA from scat collected in the Land of the Leopard. Scat collection, combined with snow tracking and camera traps, can provide a more accurate picture of the surviving population.

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How Many Amur Leopards Are Left?

There are probably fewer than 200 Amur leopards left in the wild, making this possibly the world's rarest cat. The largest Amur leopard population resides in the Land of the Leopard, where there were 121 leopards in December 2023; other populations are likely much smaller.

Human activity has pushed the Amur leopard to extinction. "A rapid population decline was observed in the 20th century mainly due to excessive hunting, declining of prey species and marginalization of habitat resources," wrote the authors of the 2022 study on Leopard scat.

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The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List named the Amur leopard critically endangered in 2008, and although conservation efforts have led to modest population increases, these big cats are still under threat.

"The tiny population that survives today is under extreme risk of extinction because of poaching, deforestation, inbreeding and anthropogenic pressure," wrote the authors of the 2016 study using local records to reconstruct population data.

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