(Greenville SC) The Greenville Zoo is celebrating the birth of two Amur leopard cubs. Born April 29, the cubs are the first offspring for parents Jade and Nelkan. Jade is the zoo’s seven-year-old female and Nelkan is an 11-year-old male that was imported from Zoo Hoyerswerda in Berlin, Germany as part of the Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP). Jade was transferred to the Greenville Zoo in 2011 from the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana. Nelkan was imported and transferred to the Greenville Zoo specifically to breed with Jade. He arrived at the zoo in November and the two were introduced on January 18.
The pair’s cubs are doing well, but because they will not be old enough to be on exhibit for some time, the zoo has installed a video monitor at the Amur leopard exhibit to allow guests to see inside their den and watch them as they grow. The gender of the cubs will be determined during their first physical exam, which will occur in the next couple of weeks.
The Amur leopard is only found in the Russian Far East and North East China. In 2007, only 19–26 wild Amur leopards were estimated to survive. Census data published in February 2015 indicated that the population had increased to at least 57 Amur leopards in Russia, and up to 12 Amur leopards in adjacent areas of China. According to the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), there are approximately 200 Amur leopards in captivity, mostly in zoos in Europe, North America and countries of the former Soviet Union. As a critically endangered species, the cubs’ birth is an important success for the Greenville Zoo’s conservation efforts and the SSP, as it will introduce another bloodline into the North American population.
There have been nine Amur leopard births so far this year:
- 2 males at Zoo des Sables d’Olonne in Vendée, France on January 12
- 1 male and 1 unknown at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, UT on February 17
- 2 males at Zoo Leipzig in Leipzig, Germany on April 22
- 2 unknown at the Greenville Zoo on April 29
- 1 male at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, KS on May 27
In addition to its participation in the Amur Leopard SSP, the zoo supports ALTA through its Quarters for Conservation program, donating nearly $15,000 since 2012, and will contribute even more at the end of this fiscal year. ALTA is a coalition of 15 international and Russian non-governmental organizations working to support conservation of Amur leopards and tigers in the wild. The main threats to the Amur leopard’s survival are poaching, forest fires, inbreeding, development and lack of political commitment. ALTA is working to reduce these threats by funding appropriate conservation projects and educating and informing people about the importance of the Amur leopard and tiger. ALTA channels money raised by the international zoo community, corporate sponsors and the public to four implementing agencies working to save them.
Amur Leopard Facts
- Description: The Amur leopard is adapted to the cool climate by having thick fur which grows nearly 3 inches long in winter. For camouflage in the snow, their coat is paler than other leopard subspecies. The Amur leopard’s rosettes are widely spaced and larger than those seen on other leopards. Their tongue has tiny rasps or hooks, called denticles, which are used to scrape the meat off of the bones of their prey.
- Weight: Males generally weigh 70-105 lbs., but can weigh up to 165 lbs. Females are smaller than the males at 55-94 lbs.
- Breeding: Females first breed at an age of 3-4 years. After a gestation period of around 12 weeks, cubs are born in litters of 1-4 individuals, with an average litter size of just over 2. The cubs stay with their mother for up to two years before becoming fully independent. Amur leopards in zoos show some evidence of breeding seasonality with a peak in births in late spring/early summer.
- Longevity: In the wild, leopards live for 10-15 years and they may reach 20 years in captivity.
- Prey: Amur leopards hunt a very wide variety of animals including roe deer, sika deer, badgers and hares.
- Hunting Habits: Amur leopards normally hunt at night and need large territories to avoid competition for prey. They silently watch their prey and ambush them using a burst of energy reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. They then carry and hide unfinished kills, sometimes up trees, so that they are not taken by other predators.
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Greenville Zoo Director