Leopards expected at park in 2010
Two Amur leopards are expected to join Siberian tigers and the UK’s only polar bear at a wildlife park in the Highlands later next year.
The big cats’ move north from Edinburgh Zoo was expected this winter, or early spring, but two other major projects have pushed the date back.
The Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig has already brought in Amur tigers and polar bear Mercedes.
Offspring of the leopards could be released into the wild.
The male, Skodje, was formerly held in Berlin Tierpark Zoo’s collection and female, Zane, was brought from Helsinki Zoo.
Amur leopard are the rarest big cats in the world.
It is estimated that fewer than 30 survive in the wild.
Human settlements and forest fires have pushed the animal to the brink of extinction and there are now more in captivity than there are in their natural habitats in China, Russia, and the Korean peninsula.
The wildlife park’s animal collection manager Douglas Richardson said Skodje and Zane were of high genetic value and hopes they will play a part in the European leopard breeding programme.
He said preparing the cats’ young for release into wild habitat in Russia would present the park’s staff with a “complex process”.
Mr Richardson said: “We were kind of looking to attempt the move them this winter or early spring but in reality because of the two other big projects with the tigers and the polar bear running back-to-back it is going to be later next year.”
He added: “We have a site picked and are actively looking for a donor for the Amur leopards.
They would be the latest high profile additions to the wildlife park’s collection representing birds and mammals from polar and tundra regions.
Two adult Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers, were introduced from Edinburgh Zoo last October.
The female, Sasha, gave birth to three cubs in May.
Edinburgh’s polar bear Mercedes arrived at the park in November.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which owns both sites, said last month more polar bears will be introduced to the park when the ageing female bear dies.
It said two would be taken from other zoos in the hope they will reproduce.
But animal welfare group the Born Free Foundation criticised the park’s claim that bringing in more bears would contribute to conservation.
It said research suggested that animals showed high levels of abnormal behaviour and infant mortality in captivity.
The RZSS has also come under attack in the past from Advocates for Animals following the deaths Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys.
Other cold region animals at the park include red panda, European bison, arctic fox, reindeer and Scottish wildcat.
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