Poachers and man-made forest fires have reduced their number to as little as 30 but now the Amur leopard, one of the world's most endangered species, has a new enemy: Russian oil.
Moscow plans to build the world's longest pipeline, with an oil terminal in the last remaining place where the Amur leopard still roams. In China and North Korea, where the leopards were hunted for use in medicines or for their fur, they are officially extinct, but in Russia's far east the big cats have somehow managed to cling on. That could soon change, for the proposed pipeline will run within yards of Russia's oldest nature reserve, Kedrovaya Pad, which was founded in 1916 specifically to safeguard the leopard and other rare species.
Moscow's plan envisages building an oil terminal, a refinery, a rail route, a road network and 18 enormous oil storage tanks at Perevoznaya on the Amur Bay, which is famous for its unspoilt environment.
"This route will almost certainly result in the extinction of the Amur leopard," says the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance, which is fighting the plan.
"[This] is probably Russia's most biodiverse area and home to 30 per cent of its endangered species. The selected terminal location on the Amur Bay is the worst possible spot." Campaigners claim that the noise, the roads and the influx of people will drive the leopards out of their traditional habitat into areas where they will be easy targets for poachers.
When completed the £8.8bn transSiberian pipeline will stretch from Lake Baikal to the Sea of Japan, a distance of almost 2,600 miles. The project is modern Russia's most ambitious and is being built to supply oil to Japan in the first instance but also to China and other rapidly developing countries.Reuse content