Meet the World's Most Endangered Leopard—Right Here in Tallahassee

Courtesy: Sasha Polissky

On Feb. 4, the Tallahassee Museum added the world’s most endangered leopard species as an addition to the Guest Animal Exhibit. This rare cat is among one of 80 Amur leopards that exist today. The Tallahassee Museum is one of 225 museums worldwide that take part in the species conservation program.

The Amur leopard is native to the mountain forests on the Russia-China border. About 80 percent of their historic range disappeared between 1970 and 1983. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, conservationist efforts in 2007 successfully rerouted a plan by the Russian government to install an oil pipeline that would have endangered the leopard’s habitat. In 2012, Russia established the Land of the Leopard National Park near Vladivostok, which now reaches at least 57 cats. The 650,000-acre refuge protects 60 percent of the remaining Amur leopard habitat.

Courtesy: Sasha Polissky

The five-year-old female Amur leopard is currently on loan from the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, Maryland while they renovate her permanent habitat. Twice per year, the museum’s Guest Animal Exhibit host’s exotic wildlife from around the world, so the Tallahassee community has the opportunity to explore and educate themselves about the differences and similarities between the current guests and the native animals.

“Many of our non-native guest animals face the same challenges as our native wildlife, including habitat loss, and we hope the Amur leopard Guest Animal Exhibit will further educate our visitors about the value of wildlife and the various challenges they face,” says Amber O’Connell, director of marketing and membership at the Tallahassee Museum.

Courtesy: Sasha Polissky

The Amur leopard is important both ecologically and economically as well as culturally. Conservation of its habitat benefits other species, including Amur tigers and prey species. In order for the Amur leopard species to survive, it needs to repopulate and the prey populations need to recover. The Amur leopard is poached mainly due to its beautiful, spotted fur. Actions need to be taken to limit the poaching of prey species and the forests must be logged more sustainably.

A 2015 census counted 60 to 72 wild Amur leopards. The small, isolated population results in low genetic diversity. Inbreeding weakens the population, which is also more vulnerable to disease and wildfire. Programs put in place such as the Tallahassee Museum aim to create preserves, boost prey populations and preserve the genetic diversity of this species. The wild population of Amur Leopards has more than doubled since 2007, primarily because of these conservation programs. Captive leopards, like the one at the museum, may one day help strengthen the genetic diversity of the wild population.

Courtesy: Sasha Polissky

“The community has enjoyed visiting and learning about this rare leopard. Our admission numbers have doubled for the month of February. Everyone has been excited about her being here,” continues O’Connell.

Thanks to the contribution of the Cat Life Foundation, Tallahassee has the privilege of visiting this gorgeous creature from now until the end of April near the main exit of the museum. Visit the Tallahassee Museum website or call (850) 575-8684 for more information about the newest arrival!