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Little Leopard Cub Meets the Snow

Little leopard cub out on the prowl 2

A critically endangered Amur Leopard cub, born at the Saint Louis Zoo on October 8, 2010 made her public debut last week and proved quite adventurous. The little female, Anastasia, has been with her mother, Mona, in a maternity den for the past three months. Now she can explore trees, rocks and even snow with her mother in her outdoor habitat. The Amur Leopard is considered one of the most endangered cats in the world.  It is believed fewer than 40 Amur Leopards remain in the coniferous forests of Primorye Province in far eastern Russia. Loss of habitat due to logging activities, human encroachment and poaching are some of the threats to their survival in the wild.

Amur Leopard ready to pounce 2

Amur Leopard cub gets a tongue bath from mom 2Photo credits: Saint Louis Zoo

The Saint Louis Zoo’s Amur Leopards are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program responsible for maintaining a genetically healthy population of Amur Leopards in North American zoos. The birth of this rare cub is a valuable genetic contribution to the North American group. In all, the population of Amur Leopards in zoos all around the world numbers just about 300 individuals. This small number and their lack of genetic diversity is a serious threat to their future.

More about Anastasia and Mona below the fold

Mona and Anastasia can be viewed daily for short periods of time at first, in the Amur leopard habitat at Big Cat Country, weather permitting. This is the second litter for mother “Mona,” who is doing an excellent job rearing her cub.  The six-year-old mother was unable to raise her first litter born in 2008, which consisted of a stillborn cub and a female cub that was hand reared by Zoo staff.  Similar to other cats, it is not uncommon for a first-time leopard mother to have problems raising her first litter.

Little Amur Leopard cub steps out in St Louis 2

Mona, who is five years old, was born at the El Paso Zoo and arrived at the Saint Louis Zoo in 2007. “Erskine,” the father of the cub, is 15 years old. He was born at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada and came to the Saint Louis Zoo in 2006. Several weeks before Anastasia’s birth, Mona was separated from her mate and given access to a secluded maternity den inside the building. Normally, a mother and cub are kept inside Big Cat Country for the first three months to allow time for the cub to grow large enough to safely navigate all of the obstacles in the outdoor yard.  “Mona has proven to be an exemplary mother the second time around,” says Steve Bircher, curator of mammals at the Saint Louis Zoo. “We’re quite proud of her nurturing skills.”