On Tuesday, July 12, two 3-month-old Amur leopard cub females, Anya and Irina (pronounced Ah-na and eye-REE-na), were given access for the first time to their outdoor habitat at Big Cat Country at the Saint Louis Zoo. The family has been bonding in a private maternity den since the cubs' birth, allowing time for the cubs to grow large enough to safely navigate all of the obstacles in the outdoor habitat.
The cubs and their mother, Dot, will continue to have daily access to the habitat, which is in public view; however, there is no set viewing schedule. The leopards are exploring the habitat at their own pace and can choose to go outside or stay in their private den at Big Cat Country. The Zoo is dedicated to caring for animals and providing them with the option of privacy is an important part of their quality care.
"Dot is an excellent mother. It's exciting to see this first-time mom providing great care to her cubs," said Steve Bircher, Kevin Beckmann Curator of Carnivores, Saint Louis Zoo. "Everything is new for Anya and Irina as they explore their outdoor habitat. They're curious, but cautious, about everything from the grass and trees, sunshine, wind and all the sights and sounds of the Zoo. It could take some time before the cubs gain their confidence and Dot feels comfortable letting her cubs explore."
Anya and Irina now weigh about 15 pounds each. They are eating more meat and nursing a little less and have received their baby vaccinations, according to Bircher.
Background on the cubs
Two critically endangered Amur leopard cubs were born at the Saint Louis Zoo on April 21, 2022. These little females are the first cubs born at the Zoo since 2010 and their births are a significant contribution to the population of Amur leopards in North American zoos. This species is considered one of the most endangered cats in the world.
The cubs were named Anya (pronounced AH-na) and Irina (pronounced eye-REE-na), which mean "grace" and "peace," respectively, by the Zoo's Carnivore Care Team. This is the first litter for mother Dorothy, or Dot, age 4, and father Samson, also age 4.
Species Survival Plan
Dot was born at San Diego Zoo and moved to the Saint Louis Zoo in fall 2020. Samson was born at Chicago Zoological Society's Brookfield Zoo and moved to the Zoo in fall 2021. The two were paired on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan, a program responsible for maintaining a genetically healthy population of Amur leopards in North American zoos.
These females represent the fifth litter of cubs born at the Zoo. There have been five other cubs born at the Saint Louis Zoo since 1991: Anastasia (female, 2010), Sofiya (female, 2008), Nikita (female, 1992) and Sergi and Dimitri (males, 1991).
Fewer Than 100 Left in the Wild
Fewer than 100 Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) remain in the coniferous forests of Primorye Province in far eastern Russia.
"There are more Amur leopards in human care than exist in the wild," said Bircher. "In all, the population of Amur leopards in zoos all around the world numbers just about 300 individuals. Without the conservation effort of zoos, this species could go extinct, due to loss of genetic diversity and other threats to its survival in the wild, including habitat loss due to logging activities, human encroachment and poaching."
Amur leopard cubs are born after a gestation period of approximately 100 days. In the wild, cubs stay with their mother for about 1½ years. Young females may continue to share the mother's territory as they mature. Young males must establish their own territories elsewhere.
The Zoo will continue to provide updates on the cubs at stlzoo.org/leopard and on social media: facebook.com/stlzoo, twitter.com/stlzoo, instagram.com/stlzoo, and youtube.com/stlzootube. Dot and her cubs can be viewed daily in the Amur leopard habitat at Big Cat Country.
About the Saint Louis Zoo
Home to over 14,000 animals, representing nearly 500 species, the Saint Louis Zoo is recognized worldwide for its innovative approaches to animal care and management, wildlife conservation, research, and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo attracts approximately 3 million visitors annually and is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences. The Saint Louis Zoo and the other AZA-accredited institutions collectively dedicate millions of dollars annually to support scientific research, conservation and education programs. For more information, visit stlzoo.org.