MEMPHIS, TENN. – One of the most critically endangered species – the Amur leopard – has found a new home at Memphis Zoo. Indigenous to the woodlands of southeastern Russia and northeastern China, it is considered the rarest big cat in the world. This male cat, named “Sputnik,” arrived in Memphis from Greenville Zoo in South Carolina. Sputnik is 16 months old and is one of only about 250 of its species remaining today.
“We’re pleased to have Sputnik join our Zoo family,” said Dan Dembiec, area curator. “This species is in extreme risk of extinction and it’s important to understand how zoos like ours can make a difference in building the population back up for the future. We’re working closely with AZA (Associate of Zoos and Aquariums) and its Species Survival Program (SSP) to ensure a stable population going forward.”
Amur leopards are one of 10 leopard subspecies and are comfortable in both warm and cold climates due to an adaptable fur that grows based on the season. They also have a tail that is up to 35-inches long that can wrap around them for warmth. They can run up to speeds of 35 miles per hour and have a horizontal leap of nearly 20-feet.
The greatest threat to the Amur leopard has been poaching for fur, hunting and habitat loss. Although the situation with the Amur leopard is critical, there is hope for its recovery based on a similar situation with the species’ cousin, the Amur tiger. Nearly 60 years ago, hunting had placed the Amur tiger on the verge of extinction with approximately 40 individuals remaining in the wild. Fortunately, strong conservation efforts helped stabilize the species, which has grown today to more than 500 individuals. It is these continued, thoughtful, and sustainable initiatives that provide optimism in saving the Amur leopard from extinction.
“Our conservation efforts continue to be a top priority for those of us at Memphis Zoo,” continued Dembiec. “It’s a privilege to work closely with AZA and its SSP program to make an impact on this amazing species and its future.”