Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik

This is one of the last homes of the greatly endangered Amur or Far Eastern leopard, of which less than 40 are believed to exist in the wild.

This leopard subspecies (Pantera pardus orientalis), distinguished from others by softer, thicker fur, fills its needs—abundant prey base and dense forested habitat—in this 69-square-mile (179-km2) zapovednik nestled in the Black Mountains facing Vladivostok across the Gulf of Amur. Common here though rare elsewhere are its favorite sika deer along with tiny, tusked musk deer, and wild boars.

Smaller predators include foxes, raccoon dogs, badgers, Siberian weasels, and rare Amur wildcats, which prey on an abundant rodent population, including Siberian chipmunks and Russian flying squirrels, and in winter, Manchurian hares. Playful otters fish in streams and lakesides. Glossy Asiatic black bears with white neck-bibs, here also though largely unseen, follow a vegetarian diet except when fattening for hibernation.

Endangered gray goshawks share the rodents. Rare gray-faced buzzard-eagles take up stands in oak forests where they swoop down on amphibians and reptiles, favorites being oriental tigersnakes and red-backed ratsnakes.

Warblers bring forests alive in spring—Pallas’, short-tailed bush, great crowned, and pale-legged willow. Great, columnar Manchurian firs up to 180 feet (55 m) tall and 6.5 feet (2 m) across offer nest sites for Siberian blue robins, brown flycatchers, Tristram’s buntings, and a variety of titmice and nuthatches. Mandarin ducks with red bills and orange “beards” and “sails” on their backs demonstrate their striking plumage to females on waterways—among 150 breeding bird species, which also include collared scops and brown hawk owls and rare Chinese sparrowhawks.

Among 57 rare or endangered plants are Schmidt’s birches with wood so dense it sinks in water. Among plant beauties are lady’s slippers, Dahurian lilies, purple-pink blossoming Wieglia praecox, three peony species. There are also 100 kinds of butterflies.

Travel agencies offer one- or two-day trips from Vladivostok.