MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hunters in Russia's Far East have shot and killed one of the last seven surviving female Amur leopards living in the wild, WWF said on Monday, driving the species even closer to extinction.
Last week environmentalists said there were only between 25 and 34 Amur leopards -- described as one of the most graceful cats in the world -- still living in the wild.
At least 100 are needed to guarantee the species' survival which depends upon female leopards breeding. There are more male leopards in the wild than female because cats tend to breed males when under stress, WWF said.
"Leopard murder can only be provoked by cowardice or stupidity, in this case most likely by both," Pavel Fomenko, WWF's biodiversity coordinator in Russia's Far East said in a statement.
A hunter shot the leopard through the tail bone. It tumbled over and was then beaten over the head with a heavy object, WWF said. Amur leopards have not been know to attack humans.
Environmentalists have urged the Russian government to introduce tighter controls on its national parks in the Far East to crack down on leopard hunting.
They also want more done to protect the animal's natural environment and food supply, which they say is being destroyed by human development.
A local wildlife watchdog received an anonymous tip-off that a leopard had been killed. State wildlife officers found the dead animal after a day of searching. The leopard died on either April 15 or April 16, WWF said.