A pair of critically endangered Amur leopard cubs have taken their first tiny steps in public at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park today - which amounts to one giant leap for their endangered species.
The leopards were born in June at Leopard Heights in the award-winning park in Branton as part of a crucial international conservation project.
Amur leopards are one of the most threatened species on the planet.
Only 70 of the majestic animals survive in the wild in the Far East of Russia and China and the fight to rebuild their numbers has been painstaking.
The cubs and their parents, Drake and Freya, could be critical in an international plan to reintroduce them back into the native habitat in a remote region of the far east of Russia.
“There has been a huge international effort to secure the future of this species and the two cubs are part of an exciting programme working towards re-introducing them to the wild,” said Simon Marsh, Animal Collection Manager at YWP.
He added: “Conservation and welfare is at the heart of everything we do here so this is painstaking work but with a potentially incredible outcome.”
The young male leopards have just had all their vaccinations and are strong enough to appear in public.
I’m sure visitors will be delighted to see them,” said Mr Marsh. “We are working so hard to make sure the Amur Leopard can prosper in the wild and that we can make a real contribution to save a species that is on the edge of extinction.”
Amur Leopard numbers dwindled because of disappearing habitat and poaching but conditions have stabilised and the Amur Tiger and Leopard Alliance (ALTA) recently announced plans for a re-introduction in the Lazovsky Nature Reserve in Southern Sikhote Alin, an area where leopards disappeared approximately 30 years ago.
Improved conservation efforts in Russia and China combined with an increase in the leopards’ traditional prey of sika deer has provided confidence that a new population numbers could rise over the next 15 years.
The YWP Amur Leopard reserve, Leopard Heights, won the BIAZA award for Significant Advances in Animal Husbandry and Welfare in 2013. The innovative three reserve layout was specifically designed as a breeding centre for these critically endangered cats, with the nursery area out of sight from visitors to give the young cubs and their mother peace and quiet for the first few months of their lives. The cubs are now feisty and starting to explore their reserve and are ready to move into the next area which has a smaller version of the climbing frame that is a feature of the main reserve where their father Drake can be seen.
Visitors to YWP have played a crucial part in the programme as the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance is one of the charities supported by the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation.
As well as seeing YWP’s leopard cubs a Halloween extravaganza is heading to the park guaranteeing fun for all the family this Half Term.
It will become possessed by silly, spooky activities for children of all ages at the Spook-tndfp-a acular Happy Halloween celebration from Thursday, October 29th to Saturday, October 31st. Visitors can watch entertainers, acrobats and magicians. Children are encouraged to get in the spooky spirit with fancy dress and enjoy the treasure trail. The park will sparkle with incredible fire performers and a Halloween Treasure trail with revealing facts about the favourite animals at YWP and prizes. The fun continues all the way to an incredible finale each day featuring bangles fireworks and the fire performers.