Two cubs belonging to an extremely endangered subspecies of leopard were born at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and have now survived a “critical” six weeks, the zoo announced in a Facebook post last Thursday.
Amur leopards are native to the temperate forests of Northeast China, the Korean Peninsula and Eastern Russia. They are often hunted for their pelts and there are only around 80 left in the wild, the zoo said. The female cub is especially rare because she was also born with melanism, an unusual condition for big cats in which the body produces an excess of melanin, giving them black fur and spots.
“Amur leopards are on the brink of extinction,” Zoo Director Gregg Dancho said in the Facebook post. “The Species Survival Plan’s breeding recommendation is designed to bolster the number of individuals in human care, for potential future breeding, as well as the opportunity to return certain members of the species back to the wild someday. The birth of these cubs brings a few more precious Amur leopards to the population, which can help ensure the survival of these majestic animals for future generations.”
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Three cubs were born on Jan. 25, but one had to be euthanized due to “maternal-induced injuries.” The other two cubs had to be separated from Freya, their mother, when she began “hyper-grooming behaviors” that put them at risk, the zoo said. The female cub was especially impacted. She lost her tail because of the hyper-grooming and had to have life-saving surgery and to take a course of antibiotics for an infection. She is now doing well, and both she and her brother have gained weight and are about 5.5 pounds.
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The zoo is home to both of the cubs’ parents: Freya, who was born in 2013 and comes from the Copenhagen Zoo and the father, Sochi, who was also born in 2013 and hails from the Denver Zoo.
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The cubs will be able to be viewed publicly after several more weeks of care.
There are currently around 200 Amur leopards in captivity: slightly more than 100 in Europe and Asia and slightly less than 100 in the U.S. There were six Amur leopard cubs born in the U.S. in 2018, and five survived.
“With such a small population, each Amur leopard born is extremely important to the survival of the species,” the zoo wrote on Facebook.
One other U.S.-based Amur leopards, at the San Diego Zoo, also has melanism.
Conservationists feared that Amur leopards would go extinct in the wild because of the combined pressures of poaching and habitat loss, according to The Revelator. A 2000 survey counted only around 30 in Russia and two in China. However, on-the-ground conservation campaigns and the 2012 establishment of the 647,000-acre Land of the Leopard National Park in Russia, helped the wild population recover somewhat. The park announced in April of last year that it had counted 84 adults and 19 cubs or adolescents within its boundaries.