The critically endangered Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) currently numbers approximately 100 individuals in the wild making it the rarest big cat in the world. The last isolated population is found in southwest Primorye in the Russian Far East, with leopards crossing over the border into China where they are establishing new territory. At present it is impossible to ascertain their status in the Korean peninsula, although there have been unconfirmed reports of Amur leopards sightings in the Korean Demilitarised Zone. They have been extirpated from South Korea.
Four regional zoo associations manage ex situ programmes for Amur leopards and participate in the WAZA Global Species Management Plan (GSMP), established in April 2013. These regions are the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the Eurasian Regional Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EARAZA) –who jointly manage the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) – the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA).
As of July 2018, the GSMP population consists of 217 Amur leopards held in 88 institutions. The population is descended from 14 founders and retains 91% gene diversity.
The GSMP enables all three programmes to be managed cohesively in order to maximise the genetic health, diversity and sustainability of the ex situ population. This is especially important as Amur leopards from the GSMP population will be used in a reintroduction plan to establish a second wild population in their historic range in southern Sikhote-Alin. The GSMP also provides a platform for discussion with Russian authorities about what should happen if Amur leopards for some reason come into human hands, such as in the event of a conflict situation. There is also increased sharing of information and greater cooperation between the regions in order to strengthen both in situ and ex situ conservation of this endangered animal.
Jo Cook – GSMP Co-Convenor (with Tanya Arzhanova) and International Studbook Keeper.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.