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Twycross Zoo celebrates birth of its second pair of rare Amur leopard cubs

Baby Leopard

Twycross Zoo is extremely pleased to announce the birth of two of the world’s rarest big cats, Amur leopards. The cubs are the second pair of babies born to mum Kristen and dad Davidoff and, just like their older siblings, bring hope for the survival of this rare species on the brink of extinction in the wild. The young cubs have not yet ventured outside their den, but visitors can now watch them in a live-stream from the den via a big screen outside the leopards’ enclosure.

Native to Russian Far East forests and mountains, the critically endangered species faces the very real threat of disappearing from the wild forever. The solitary hunters suffer from habitat loss, increasing prey scarcity, and diseases, as well as being poached for their beautiful fur. Latest expert estimations suggest that the number of wild Amur leopards has shrunk to less than 70 individuals in recent years, although the exact number is very difficult to count as they are so rare. With just 200 of these leopards in zoos across the world, the new cubs at Twycross Zoo will help ensure healthy genetic lines in the captive-bred, and potentially wild, populations.

Twycross Zoo is working with partner organisations, such as Wildlife Vets International, towards the reintroduction of these animals into the wild and securing the continuation of viable wild populations. The zoo also participates in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and hopes that the new cubs, as well as their older siblings, could be part of these wider long-term conservation plans. The Russian government approved the plan for the Amur leopards’ reintroduction in June 2015, and whilst the progress is slow due to the continuing international negotiations it bodes very well for the continued survival of this species.

The Twycross Zoo keepers reported that there were no complications during the birth and soon after the cubs were already active and suckling. In the wild, Amur leopard cubs are weaned when they are three months old and usually leave the mother before reaching two years. Similarly, Kristen’s first pair of cubs, which were born in 2014, have made their move towards adulthood. Arina has moved to Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig, Scotland earlier this year and Alexei will soon be transported to Tallinn Zoo in Estonia.

Dr Charlotte Macdonald, Director of Life Sciences says, “We are excited about our new arrivals and it is great to see how their mother is confidently responding to the cubs now that she is a more experienced mum. The three of them remain hidden away in a special birthing den, but the cameras inside allow us to monitor the babies’ progress without disturbance. The birth is fantastic news for the entire species as Twycross Zoo actively participates in the conservation of the critically endangered Amur leopards and captive-bred cubs such as these two could help ensure the long-term survival of the species.”