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There is unfortunately only one leopard subspecies left in Russia – the Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis). A relation, the Middle Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana), used to live at the same latitude in the Caucasus. However, despite regular reports of tracks found and even encounters with leopards in the area, the species is considered extinct and there is no chance of reintroducing it. The Far Eastern leopard is also now facing extinction. The body of the Far Eastern leopard varies between 90 and 170 cm in length and up to 60 kg in weight, and its tail can reach up to 100 cm. This is the northernmost leopard subspecies, and the only one in the world adapted to survive long snowy winters.
Distribution: The leopards used to occur along the Sikhote-Alin ridge of the Far East, but their range has been steadily shrinking and only around 30 animals remain in the very south. Their much-reduced territory stretches from Razdolnaya River to Posiet Bay in the southwest of the Primorye region, although sightings have also been reported in neighbouring areas of China and North Korea.
Leopards usually prefer quiet deciduous and mixed mountain forests located at 300-500 m above sea level. They are very territorial and adults protect their home ground, usually of about 500-800 square kilometres, from invaders.
Food: The leopard's diet consists mostly of hoofed animals – roe, sika and musk deer (the latter in areas with high population densities) – although it consumes small mammals and birds also. Badgers and raccoon dogs are important food sources in summer. Deer farms are an important source of abundant and easily accessible prey, especially in winter, much to the anger of farm owners.
Leopards do not usually chase prey over long distances, but stalk it closely, often ambushing it from trees. The leopard’s only natural competitor is the Amur tiger, especially in areas where the hoofed animal populations are low.
Breeding: Mating can occur in any season but usually happens in January, with the cubs born in April. There may be up to four cubs in a litter, although there are usually two. Cubs spend about a year with their mother and then start their own life, leaving the female ready to breed again.
Leopards are very particular about their habitat. They are intolerant of disturbance, especially around breeding sites, where the slightest trace of humans will make a female relocate with her cubs. She does this by carrying the cubs one by one in her mouth, sometimes resulting in the death of the last cub from waiting alone in the low early spring temperatures.
Behaviour: Leopards are resident animals: from one generation to the next, they live within the same territory and use permanent trails, shelters and breeding sites.
Far Eastern leopards do not attack humans. Their honed sight and hearing enables them to identify human presence early and escape stealthily (also even from its prey). However, There have been cases when young leopards have followed humans out of curiosity, staying out of sight and showing no aggression.
Reasons for the decreasing leopard population: Direct destruction of habitat (forest fires, timber cutting, road construction, industrial development and country house construction) is the first reason for the dwindling leopard population. Second is the increasing number of people visiting forests and disturbing the leopards. Third is poachers, who kill not only leopards but also its prey. The fourth threat is genetic problems, e.g. inbreeding.