Could another mysterious beast be lurking in the far reaches of the Alaskan frontier? CryptoVille explores the mystery of the Amur Leopard and whether it may have transformed into a cryptozoological monster over the millennia.
Not much is really known about the ultra-elusive Amur Leopard (photo above right by A.M. Rodel) except for the fact that it’s highly endangered over in Russia and China. According to an article on amurleopard.com, scientists estimate there are only 30-40 living in the wild with another 150 or so living in captivity (zoos). Unfortunately I don’t know how old that information is as there is no date on the site’s web pages.
Conservationists are working feverishly to try and find out more about how these creatures live so that more meaningful conservation measures can be taken to protect them.
CryptoVille has covered the Amur, or Siberian, Tiger mystery and whether a population could be living in Alaska. (See the References section at the end of this article for a link to that article.) But could its Russian neighbor also have settled in the Great White North?
First we have to consider whether the Amur leopard could survive an Alaskan winter. It seems they survive harsh Siberian winters, so they should be able to handle Alaska. Their pale colored fur (light tan to a reddish brown, with white bellies) grows very long in preparation for winter – nearly 3 inches! Their spots are black.
They also have long legs that help them traverse the snow more capably. These beautiful animals measure from three to six feet long on their bodies plus an additional two to three feet in the tail. Males weigh between 82 and 198 pounds while females weigh 62-132 pounds. At the shoulder they reach anywhere from 18-30 inches high.
Perhaps best of all, these animals have lovely light blue-green eyes.
Here’s a short video of Amur leopard cubs in China:
When I think of a leopard, I imagine one sprawled on a tree limb overlooking a great African Savannah. But in fact, leopards are highly adaptable animals that can live in a wide range of environments, from the warm to the cold, from mountainous to deserts.
They can live without water for upwards of a week as long as they get moisture from their prey food. If they have some brush/grasses/plant matter to stalk through and some caves or rocky terrain to hide and hunt in, they’re good.
So let’s see. Would there be enough cover in the state of Alaska to suit the leopard’s needs? Yes. There are plenty of places to hide and plenty of undergrowth to make stealthy stalking possible. There are caves and plenty of rocky places for them to seek shelter, as well as lots of trees in most areas for them to climb. (Please note, the photos of these Amur leopards in this article had to have been taken in either Russia or China.)
Now let’s consider a comment in the Wiki article, “An individual’s territory is usually located in a river basin which generally extends to the natural topographical borders of the area.” Here are two maps of rivers in Alaska, one a general map and the other a close-up of the Copper River basin. I’d say there were plenty of areas to suit the tastes of an Amur leopard.
Leopards in general are quite athletic, too. They are strong swimmers and have been clocked running at 36 miles an hour (58 kilometers/hour). They are said to be able to leap 20 feet (6 meters) at a time, and can jump 10 feet (3 meters) straight up into the air.
They need to be athletic in order to stalk their prey and obtain food. Their excellent vision, keen hearing, and whiskers aid them in the hunt; their sense of smell, not so much. It’s been said that in Africa, leopards sneak into villages and pick off any unsuspecting pets lying around, all without anyone hearing anything.
They’ve also been known to simply drop out of a tree onto their prey, as well as lay low at waterholes stalking some poor thirsty creature.
Because they’re so strong, they regularly haul their prey into the trees to keep other carnivores from eating it, and so they can return at their leisure to continue eating. According to the San Diego Zoo website, in Africa at least, leopards are known to eat: “monkeys, baboons, rodents, snakes, amphibians, large birds, fish, antelope, cheetah cubs, warthogs, and porcupines.”
That begs the question, what is there for them to eat in Alaska, if they are in fact there. Well fish, certainly. If they eat antelope, they may be enticed to eat elk or caribou, not to mention moose or bear. Alaska has rodents too, and things like raccoons and porcupines. So they probably could manage and even thrive there.
In Russia and northern China, the Amur leopard hunts hares, roe and sika deer, badgers and raccoon dogs. There are hares in Alaska, and in lower sections of the state, Sitka black tailed deer (which are different from sika deer). From what I’ve read, leopards are opportunistic eaters, so I have to imagine that there is plenty of game in Alaska to which they could have adapted, especially over the course of thousands of years.
Important to note: Leopards are threatened by tigers, so if there is an Alaskan tiger, you can bet an Alaskan leopard will avoid it. According to the San Diego Zoo website, “Leopards go to great lengths to avoid these predators, hunting at different times and often pursuing different prey than their competitors, and resting in trees to keep from being noticed.”
Fun Facts: Leopards can hear five times more sounds than humans can, including the ultrasonic squeaks of mice!
Did the Amur Leopard Migrate to Alaska?
From what we’ve covered so far, Alaska has much to offer these elusive creatures of the cat family. But did they make the trip across the land bridge known as Beringia thousands of years ago?
We have the same problem when speculating whether the Siberian tigers migrated to Alaska at the same time. The major problem there is that some scientists feel Beringia was more or less a barren plain and tigers and leopards need places to hide as they travel. At least one other scientist believes there is evidence to suggest that Beringia wasn’t that barren, that there were small wooded areas and grassland dotted across the land bridge.
Fun Fact: What’s the difference between a leopard’s & a jaguar’s spots? The spots on a leopard are flower-shaped but have no central dot. The jaguar also has these “rosettes” as they’re called, but their spots always have a dot in the center.
Burden of Proof
When we consider the vast stretches of time involved in the formation of Beringia, how long it lasted, the aftermath when it disappeared again, in addition to the huge tracts of unexplored wilderness in not only Alaska but the Canadian Northwest, it seems like anything could be possible. Why wouldn’t the Amur leopard saunter across the land bridge and set up housekeeping in a brand new world?
Possible yes, but if we really want an answer, it’s going to take a lot of effort. Someone is going to have to go searching for it. My recommendation is to consult with the Native Americans already living in the state. See what legends and tales they have that may describe just such an animal. (Photo of Denali State Park, right.)
Then plan your hunt from there. I think we can all agree, given the scarcity of this animal, we don’t need anyone to kill one. But come armed with an excellent camera and video camera.
Filming a leopard, even one that may have evolved somewhat differently over the past 10,000 or so years, is still something we’re going to recognize. Science doesn’t recognize Bigfoot, and because of that (and all the freaking hoaxing going on!!), a photo or video isn’t going to be enough. It will probably take a body to convince the scientific community.
But we all know leopards exist, so even a “slightly modified” one would be recognizable.
Another equally important factor to consider, this person will have to be prepared to survive the harsh and extremely dangerous conditions of the Alaskan wilderness. That’s not something to be taken lightly. Every year people and planes go missing without a trace. So this undertaking wouldn’t be for the faint-hearted.
I’d love to see a population of these beautiful animals discovered in the Great White North. Technically, I think they could be there. But how to prove it?
Til the next time!
Animals are always adapting in new and exciting ways!! 😉