Wildlife park’s rare leopard cubs caught on camera for first time
It is hoped at least one of the youngsters can be released into the wild in future.
Two rare Amur leopard cubs born in the Highland Wildlife Park have been caught on camera for the first time.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) announced in July that its Amur leopard Arina had given birth, however the number of cubs was not known as human presence is kept to a minimum.
Motion sensitive cameras have now shown two cubs emerging from their den deep within undergrowth.
It is hoped at least one of them 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 Amur leopard habitat at the park is not on view to the public, which helps ensure the cubs retain their wild instincts and behaviour.
The gender of the cubs is not known but keepers hope to find out during health checks in the next few weeks.
RZSS said that 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 cubs born at the Highland Wildlife Park 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 said: “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.”