Rare Amur leopard cubs raise hopes for species

Young­sters born at High­land Wildlife Park could be re­leased

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - LOCAL NEWS - BY SARAH BRUCE

Hav­ing the fu­ture of a species weigh­ing on your shoul­ders is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity for one lit­tle leopard.

But luck­ily for the Amur leop­ards at High­land Wildlife Park, it turns out there are two of them to share the pres­sure.

The Royal Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety an­nounced in July that its Amur leopard Arina had given birth – but no­body was al­lowed near enough to check how many cubs there were.

Now, new footage shows two strong and healthy cubs ven­tur­ing into the open for the first time – dou­bling the chances of a suc­cess­ful rein­tro­duc­tion of the species to the wild.

The next step is to find out the sex of the cubs – with hopes for two girls so they can be re­leased into the wild to­gether.

Dou­glas Richard­son, head of liv­ing col­lec­tions at the park at Kin­craig, said: “We are de­lighted that Arina has two cubs, with both ap­pear­ing to be strong and healthy.

“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.

“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.”

Funded by an anony­mous do­na­tion, the park’s Amur leopard habi­tat is not on view to the pub­lic, which helps en­sure the cubs re­tain their wild in­stincts and be­hav­iour.

The cubs’ fa­ther Freddo came from Tallin Zoo in Es­to­nia and Arina was born at Twycross Zoo in the Mid­lands. 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, with only around 100 re­main­ing in the wild.

It is hoped that cubs born in the High­lands can be re­leased into a re­gion north-east of Vladi­vos­tok in the Rus­sian Far East, part of the Amur leopard’s his­toric wild range.

Mr Richard­son added: “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.

“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 ac­cli­ma­tis­ing and sharp­en­ing their sur­vival skills in a con­tained, nat­u­ral­is­tic en­vi­ron­ment within the pro­posed lo­ca­tion of La­zovsky Zapoved­nik, be­fore be­ing re­leased and mon­i­tored.”

SPOT­TED: The first images of the rare Amur leopard cubs, born in an ex­clu­sive habi­tat at the High­land Wildlife Park not on view to the pub­lic, have been re­leased

It’s be­lieved there are only 100 Amur leop­ards re­main­ing in the wild

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