The critically-endangered Amur leopards were almost extinct only 20 years ago, but according to Russia’s environmental protection authorities their number now exceeds 100, meaning that the majestic animals have come back from the brink.
Due to hunting and poaching, the number of Amur leopards in the wild fell down to about 30 not that long ago. But around 400 camera traps set up across the wilderness of the Russian Far East confirm the new numbers (84 adult leopards and 12 cubs) – and they can be trusted to be accurate as each leopard’s spots are unique.
There are also around 300 Amur leopards living in zoos around the world, but the survival of the species depends on the population in the natural habitat. The Russian government is now planning to expand the territory of the Land of the Leopard National Park in the Primorsky region, a nature reserve set up in 2012 to preserve the few remaining Amur leopards.
Vladivostok travel agents run a variety of (fairly pricey) tours to the nature reserves of the Primorsky Territory, which are still slowly developing as tourist destinations. The most interesting tour is probably to Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve, run by the Wildlife Conservation Society and a vital remaining habitat for the endangered Amur leopard; it’s a wonderfully wild slice of wilderness.
Another option is visiting Gaivoron Biological Research Centre (235km north of Vladivostok), run by the Russian Academy of Sciences, where you can actually see a couple of Amur leopards held in captivity. You can also visit the Land of the Leopard National Park on a tour. While the Amur leopard's rareness means you definitely won't see one in the wild here, the landscape is gorgeous and visits help fund this critically important effort to save the gorgeous animal.