For the first time in 20 years, an Amur leopard is set to give birth at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
The zoo’s animal care and health team has confirmed that Ajax, the zoo’s female Amur leopard, is pregnant. She is due to give birth to a litter later this summer.
“This is tremendously exciting news for the Santa Barbara Zoo,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, Vice President of Animal Care and Health at the zoo.
Amur leopards are the most endangered of all big cats, the zoo says. Fewer than 100 remain in the wild.
“Conservation is a critical part of our mission, and we’re proud to celebrate Ajax’s pregnancy with our colleagues and conservation partners,” Barnes said.
The zoo says they have been attempting to breed Amur leopards for several years. Kasha, the zoo’s male Amur leopard, is the father.
“Breeding Amur leopards are complicated and challenging, and our team has worked really hard to help Ajax get pregnant,” Barnes said.
Amur leopards are solitary by nature, the zoo says. They come together to mate but take time to acclimate to each other.
“Now that Ajax is pregnant, the next step is working towards her successfully giving birth and rearing her cubs,” Barnes said.
Amur leopards have a gestation period of about three to three-and-a-half months. Because big cat births can be unpredictable, giving Ajax appropriate space and time to bond with her cubs is the zoo’s priority, Barnes says.
Just under 100 Amur leopards are estimated to live in the wild. Most live in an area between Vladivostok, Russia, and the Chinese border. Poaching, forest fires, development and even inbreeding pose threats to Amur leopards.
About 200 Amur leopards are in human care.
This story was originally published by Bethany Reeves at KSBY.