Motion-sensitive cameras hidden in a unique breeding area at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park revealed that two Amur Leopard cubs have emerged from their den.
The park announced July that Amur Leopard Arina had given birth. However, with human presence being kept to a minimum in the Leopard habitat, the number of cubs born was unknown.
The cubs emerged from a den located deep within undergrowth in a remote section of the park, which is not accessible to visitors. This strategy of keeping human contact to a minimum makes the cubs good candidates for reintroduction to the wild – part of a desperate attempt to save these rare Cats from extinction. Fewer than 70 of these Critically Endangered animals remain in the Russian Far East.
Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the park, said, “Our Amur Leopard habitat is the only one within the zoo community which has been designed to breed these extremely rare Cats with the aim of producing cubs that are eligible for reintroduction to the wild.” This ensures the cubs will retain their wild instincts and behavior.
“While this would be incredibly complex, it would also be a world first and a huge step forward in the conservation of this critically endangered Cat,” Richardson said.
Freddo, the cubs' father, came from Tallin Zoo in Estonia, while Arina was born at Twycross Zoo. Both Leopards arrived at the park in 2016.
Although progress has been made in recent years, habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans remain threats to the Amur Leopard.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is working with partners, including ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and conservation authorities in Russia. It is hoped that cubs born at Highland Wildlife Park can be released into a region northeast of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, part of the Amur Leopard’s historic wild range.
“One of the key factors in deciding the next steps will be determining the sex of the cubs, which we expect to find out during initial health checks over the next few weeks,” said Richardson.
“If the cubs are the same sex, ideally female, then there is a good possibility both may be candidates for reintroduction, while if we have a brother and sister then only one would be eligible to avoid them breeding together,” Richardson said.
“Although there are no guarantees of success and we are reliant on international partners, reintroducing at least one of our cubs to the wild may be possible in the next two to three years. This would need to be a phased approach, with young Leopards spending some time acclimatizing and sharpening their survival skills in a contained, naturalistic environment within the proposed location of Lazovsky Zapovednik, before being released and monitored,” said Richardson.
The cubs, now three months old, will be named when their sex is known.