Rare leopard born at Highland Wildlife Park could be released into wild

A critically-endangered leopard cub born in Scotland could be released into the wild in Russia as a world first.

Amur leopard Freddo (pictured), and mate Arina, have become parents at the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie. Picture: PA

News that Amur leopards Freddo and Arina had become parents was confirmed recently at the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie by the cub making a crying sound.

It is hoped the cat will be moved to Russia in future as part of conservation efforts and would be among only 100 which remain in the wild.

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If successful, it would be the first ever reintroduction to the wild of a critically-endangered Amur leopard.

Douglas Richardson, head of living collections, said: “Our approach to managing this highly-threatened cat is globally unique, with the zoo and conservation community watching what we do with a view to following our lead.

“Being able to send captive-bred Amur leopards back to a part of their historic wild range in Russia would represent an extraordinary conservation success.

“Although progress has been made in recent years, habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans remain threats to the Amur leopard, with only around 100 remaining in the wild.

“We have the only specially-designed off-show breeding habitat in the zoo world, which ensures minimal interaction with humans and no contact with our visitors.”

The only sighting of the cub - believed to have been born around June 17 - has been made through camera traps.

It has been kept away from humans in the complex for welfare reasons.

The pen has been designed specifically to breed Amur leopards and maximise the possibility of them being released into the wild.

With minimal human contact, it is not yet known if more than one cub has been born.

The park’s breeding complex was completed last year and funded by an anonymous donation.

It is expected the gender of the cub will be confirmed when it has its first physical check-up at about three months old.

Freddo arrived at the park from Tallinn Zoo in Estonia while Arina was born at Twycross Zoo in the Midlands.