Amur Leopard Cubs Go on Exhibit at Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
The two baby Amur leopard cubs born at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo made their public debut today, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon announced.
The cubs were born June 19 to Amur leopards Tria and Rafferty as part of the Species Survival Plan for this critically endangered species. Fewer than 85 Amur leopards remain in the wild in their native habitat in Far East Russia, making them the world’s rarest big cats.
The new cubs, a male and a female, stayed in private quarters with their mother for their first 8 weeks and are now big enough to venture into their exhibit in the zoo’s Social Animals wing, Zoo Director Ted Fox said.
County Executive McMahon said, “I am thrilled to announce that the new Amur leopard cubs born at the zoo will be able to be seen by the community starting today! These precious little cubs represent an extremely endangered species and we are very proud of our zoo’s involvement in the efforts to save them from extinction.”
The zoo’s current indoor Amur leopard habitat is temporary -- it will allow the cubs to explore and learn to climb while the zoo is working to build a larger, more complex outdoor habitat for the family in the former African lion exhibit, Fox said.
“When we committed to participating in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan for Amur leopards, we knew we wanted to create a new habitat to accommodate the needs of Tria and Rafferty and their offspring,” Fox said. “The Friends of the Zoo has stepped up to raise the funds and manage the project to make this happen.”
Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo President Janet Agostini said the Friends intends to provide an enriching space with trees and climbing structures that will encourage the animals’ natural climbing abilities and allow them access to the open air.
Dubbed Amur Leopard Woodland, the project is anticipated to cost about $400,000, Agostini said. Renovations to the former lion exhibit are expected to begin this fall and the fundraising is ongoing. Donations to the project can be made at www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org/donate.
The new cubs do not yet have names. The zoo plans a naming vote soon.
Amur leopards were once numerous across northern China and southern Russia, but their population and range have shrunk due to habitat destruction for logging and agriculture, overhunting of their prey by humans and illegal poaching for their beautiful coats.
Many of those remaining in the wild are protected in a preserve established by Russia in 2012, but the population is so small that genetic diversity has become a major concern. The Species Survival Plan for Amur leopards is working to breed a genetically strong population in human care to supplement the wild population.
There currently are about 250 Amur leopards in human care globally, while their numbers in the wild have increased from a low of about 30 in 2012 to a current estimate of 84 individuals.