Illinois zoo gets Amur leopard

By Scott Richardson
srichardson@pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON — Boris, one of just 290 Amur leopards in zoos worldwide, has taken up residence at the Miller Park Zoo. The 8-year-old animal is on permanent loan from the Minnesota Zoo at Apple Valley, said Miller Park Zoo superintendent John Tobias.

After some private time to acclimate to his surroundings, Boris may be on public display indoors by Saturday. Eventually, he will spend most of his time in an outdoor cage, possibly in a week.

Tobias thinks Boris was born in Canada before he moved to the Minneapolis area. “This is a Minnesota leopard. If he can handle their weather, he can handle ours,” said Tobias, who once worked at the Minnesota Zoo.

Boris, who came free of charge, will be housed in the Katthoefer Animal Building, which is scheduled for a $1.6 million renovation in 2009-2010 as part of Operation Roar. The project also includes construction this summer of a free-standing $400,000 veterinarian building with a public viewing window so visitors can watch medical procedures.

Boris was located through a zoo service listing surplus or desired animals. The Minnesota facility was making way for renovations, Tobias said.

A rare sight in zoos, Amur leopards are on the brink of extinction in the wild. Experts think perhaps as few as 50 animals survive, according to the Amur Leopard Conservation Support Programme, an international group working to ensure their survival. They once roamed former Manchuria, the Korean peninsula and the southern part Russia’s far eastern region. They’ve been killed for their skins and their body parts for use in Asian medicines, and their habitat was damaged by routine burning for agriculture.

Cold spring weather is not a problem. Found today only in southeast Russia on the Chinese and Korean borders, a few wild Amur leopards inhabit the northern-most range of the eight leopard subspecies.

A program is in place to raise numbers of Amur leopards by captive breeding, but Tobias said Boris probably will not be among animals to take part in the effort. Researchers find animals raised with extensive human contact tend to become violent with other members of their own species and not accept mates.

“They haven’t quite learned to be leopards,” said Tobias.

He would like to obtain a mating pair of suitable Amur leopards after the building improvements are done, he added.

Boris joins another rare big cat at the zoo, Besar, the only Sumatran tiger in an Illinois zoo. Besar came from Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2004. About 400 Sumatran tigers remain free.

The zoo has not had a successful breeding pair of Sumatran tigers, but the zoo had red wolves successfully mate in captivity and give birth to eight pups about 10 years ago.

How to help

People interested in donating to Operation Roar, a two-phase project for an animal hospital and renovations to the Katthoefer Animal Building, can call (309) 434-2250 or send checks to Miller Park Zoo, 1020 S. Morris Ave., Bloomington, IL 61701. Write “Operation Roar” on the memo line.

On the Net: www.millerparkzoo.org

http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2007/04/20/ news/doc4628f0ceedaeb753079933.txt

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