Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has announced that two rare Amur leopard cubs have been born at Highland Wildlife Park, offering hope for the first ever reintroduction of the big cats into the wild.
The park’s Amur leopard habitat is not on view to the public, with little human presence helping retain the leopards’ wild instincts and behaviour. It was motion sensitive cameras that captured two cubs emerging from their den deep within undergrowth in July, confirming Amur leopard Arina had given birth.
Freddo, the father, came from Tallin Zoo in Estonia, while Arina was born at Twycross Zoo in the Midlands, with both leopards arriving at the park in 2016.
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.”
The Amur leopard is under severe threat from habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans in its native Russia, with only around 100 remaining in the wild. Working with partners including ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and conservation authorities in Russia, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland hopes the cubs born at Highland Wildlife Park will be released into a region northeast of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.
“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.”