New leopard at zoo soon to be joined by female in breeding program

By Corene Brisendine

Sorry for the pun, but a new leopard has been spotted at Sunset Zoo. And there’s another one on the way — a potential mate, in fact.

An Amur leopard named Vladamere arrived Wednesday from Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. He was transferred as part of a breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which Sunset is a member.

The Amur leopard is one of the most endangered leopard species in the world, with less than 30 in the wild and about 75 in captivity, said Brian Davoren, general curator at Sunset.

Davoren said the leopard’s natural habitat is a small strip of forest northwest of North Korea in the Primyore Mountains in southeastern Russia.

The exchange program, Species Survival Plan, is designed to bring together compatible pairs of endangered species. Subsequent breeding might ensure survival and genetic viability.

Vladamere was brought in after zoo staff decided to acquire the critically endangered animals to breed rather than replacing one of the two snow leopards that were previously housed at Sunset.

Ella Casey, Sunset Zoo’s development officer, said one of the snow leopards died of old age last fall.

As a result, administrators requested transferring the surviving snow leopard to another zoo inside the AZA network, and bringing in a pair of Amur leopards.

Casey said they found out this spring they had acquired one of the Amurs from Utah and the other from Erie, Pa., but waited to transfer the cats this fall because the habitat needed some small renovations and it was too hot to transfer them over the summer.

Vladamere, 9, is currently quarantined at the zoo for the next few weeks to ensure he is disease free — and calmed down from the trip.

Davoren drove 15 hours to Utah and back to get Vlad earlier this week, but the female will have to travel by plane from Pennsylvania.

As a result of the warmer weather, the zoo has delayed the female’s transfer in hopes of cooler temperatures in the coming weeks.

Casey said they should have the leopardess here within the next two weeks. However, she will be in quarantine for a few weeks, as well.

According to the Philadelphia Zoo, Emma, an 11-year-old leopardess, was born at the Erie Zoo in 2002.

She is also the only female from a set of triplets born that year. Although Casey said they won’t know the name of the leopardess until she arrives, they do know it is an 11-year-old from Erie — so Emma is the likely candidate.

Davoren said that once both cats are allowed to roam freely in their habitat, he plans to let them breed. However, zookeepers will have to observe the pair’s behavior together to make sure they actually like one another.

He said that zookeepers in Erie have been trying to mate the leopardess with a 4-year-old, but without success.

Davoren is confident that Vladamere and his new partner could have better results. In addition to being closer in age, the pair also spent time at Erie during their youth.

Davoren said Sunset plans to keep them for a considerable amount of time, especially if they reproduce. While Vlad is in his mating prime at 9, the female is nearing the end of hers.

Amur leopards live 15 to 20 years in captivity and 10 to 15 years in the wild.

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