Ussuriisk, Russia – Police are investigating the killing of an Amur Leopard – one of the rarest animals on earth with only a few dozen left in the wild – after officers discovered the skin of an adult leopard in a private car.
Internal Police Service officers found the dead animal's pelt on 3 April while inspecting a car and the skin was then sent to the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine of the Primorsky State Agricultural Academy for examination.
Specialists from the academy and experts from the Primorsky province Hunting Department and WWF-Russia identified the skin as belonging to an adult Amur leopard, most likely male. The experts concluded that the leopard, also known as the Far East leopard, likely died of a gunshot wound.
"This finding is another tragic loss for the Far Eastern Leopard population," said Sergey Aramilev, WWF Russia Amur branch biodiversity conservation coordinator, who participated in the examination. "The animal was evidently killed on purpose most probably in order to make money on his skin. From the point of view of ordinary person this killing of the most peaceful predator in Russia is an act of outspoken barbarism, because even in the crisis period there are other easier ways to make one's living."
The skin showed that the leopard most likely died last year, in the spring or autumn of 2008, Aramilev said.
"We took pictures that will allow us to compare the skin's spots pattern with an available database of Far Eastern Leopards skins," Aramilev said. "This will help to identify the individual and the place of his death."
The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is the most northern-living leopard subspecies with only 30-40 individuals left in the world, according to Natalia Pervushina, co-ordinator of TRAFFIC's Russian Far East programme. The animal is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Russian Red data book as critically endangered, as well as in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning all commercial trade is totally prohibited.
According to the Russian Federation Criminal Code, killing of a Red listed leopard is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine up to 500, 000 rubles (approx. 15,100 USD).
"WWF Russia and TRAFFIC hope that the Internal Police Service will succeed in tracing the criminals and identifying the animal's killer," Pervushina said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org