Footage has revealed that two of the rarest cats in the world have been born at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park, increasing options for the first ever reintroduction of the Amur leopard to the wild.
The charity announced in July that its Amur leopard Arina had given birth. However, with human presence being kept to a minimum, the number of cubs born was unknown.
Motion sensitive cameras have now shown that two cubs have emerged from their den deep within undergrowth, at least one of which may be released into the wild in Russia in the future.
Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the park, at Kincraig, near Kingussie, 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.
Freddo, the father, came from Tallin Zoo in Estonia, while 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.
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 Mr 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.
“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.”
The cubs, now three months old, will be named when their sex is known.
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