Two of the rarest (and littlest) of the big cats on earth have made their official debut at Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo! The Zoo's Amur leopard cubs (Panthera pardus orientalis), a male, Orion, and a melanistic (an extremely rare black color variant) female, Kallisto, have slowly been acclimating to their new habitat, and are now available for Zoo guests to view from 9:00-11:00 a.m. and again from 2:00-4:00 p.m. daily.
Amur leopards are critically endangered, which means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, with approximately 80 animals remaining there. There are approximately 200 in human care worldwide, with slightly more than 100 in Russia and Europe, and slightly fewer than 100 in the U.S. With such a small population, each Amur leopard born is extremely important to the survival of the species. So far in 2019, there have been five births in accredited zoos, with only three cubs surviving, including Orion and Kallisto.
"We've worked with the cubs for the past few weeks, gradually acclimating them to the outdoors, their new surroundings, and the sounds, sights, and smells they've encountered for the first time," said the Zoo's Deputy Director Don Goff, who as exotic cat expert and co-chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)'s Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) has overseen the care of the cubs from birth. "Our guests and supporters have anxiously awaited a chance to meet Orion and Kallisto, and we appreciate everyone's patience. As always, the physical, emotional and mental welfare of the cubs is our first responsibility."
The cubs will be out in their habitat from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. and then again from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. each day, but Goff cautioned that the cubs will have free choice to their holding areas, and they may choose to go inside where they can't be seen. "We want everyone to have a chance to visit these precious and rare leopards, but they're still quite young and may need rest time out of sight of our guests," he explained. "If they're not visible from the viewing window, visit other parts of the Zoo and make another trip to the leopard habitat at a later time," he advised.
About Amur leopards
A rare subspecies of leopard that has adapted to life in the temperate forests from Northeast China to the Korean peninsula and the Russian Far East, Amur leopards are often illegally hunted for their beautiful spotted fur. The Amur leopard is agile and fast, running at speeds up to 37 miles per hour. Males reach weights of 110 pounds and females up to 90 pounds.
They prey on sika, roe deer, and hare, but the Amur leopard has to compete with humans for these animals. They live for 10-15 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in human care. In the wild, Amur leopards make their home in the Amur-Heilong, a region that contains one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world, vast steppe grasslands, and the unbroken taiga biome.
About Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo:
Let your curiosity run wild! Connecticut's only zoo, celebrating its 97thanniversary this year, features 300 animals representing primarily North and South American species. Guests won't want to miss our Amur (Siberian) tigers and leopards, American alligators and Spur-thigh tortoises, Mexican and red wolves, and Golden Lion tamarin. Other highlights include the Natt Family Red Panda Habitat, our South American rainforest with free-flight aviary, the prairie dog exhibit with "pop-up" viewing areas, plus the Pampas Plains featuring maned wolves, Chacoan peccaries and Giant anteaters. Guests can grab a bite at the Peacock Café, eat in the Picnic Grove, and enjoy a ride on our colorful, indoor carousel. For more information, visit beardsleyzoo.org.