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New animal at Hogle Zoo part of plan to save the species

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Posted at 10:48 PM, Aug 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-25 00:48:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY – The Hogle Zoo has a new addition, and the Amur leopard they've taken in is an important part of a breeding plan for the endangered species.

The 14-month-old animal is named Dimitri, and he came to Salt Lake City from the zoo in Minnesota where he was born.

Erica Hansen is the community relations coordinator at Hogle Zoo, and she said Dimitri is adjusting to his new home.

“You know, he's adjusted really well,” she said. “Cats can be a little bit skittish, but he's really, really bright and he's very curious. And he charged into his new home on Monday, and he explored every nook and cranny, and he's ready to go. He's already at home."

Tracy Owen is the animal care keeper at Hogle Zoo, and she said they plan to introduce the leopard to a female in about a year and a half.

"Basically a good way to look at it is he's like a scrawny teenager,” Owen said. “He just needs to become more mature. He's just not quite sexually mature, and eventually we would like him to breed with a female."

Hansen said the Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan is in place because the animals are extremely endangered.

"So what this is essentially is a fantastic computer dating site for animals,” she said. “So what they want to do is keep the blood lines as clean as possible.  So they track which animals, how many offspring they have, and they want to keep them paired as healthy as possible."

There are only 35 of the leopards left in the wild, and there are another 200 in zoos around the world. Hansen said awareness is an important part of the battle to save the species.

"So, again, this is one of the reasons that zoos are important,” she said. “So you can bring your kids out and your family and educate them and then hopefully people will go out into the world and make choices and decisions to keep the species alive."

Amur leopards can grow to be more than 100 pounds, and they are about 4 feet long, not counting the tail. The cats can carry three times their body weight. Owen said they are giving Dimitri everything a growing leopard needs.

“Dmitri is on a whole ground horse meat,” Owens said. “That means it literally has the whole animal all ground up in it—fat, bone, ligaments, you name it, because he can't just survive on the muscle meat alone.  Because in the wild he catches something, he's going to eat the whole animal, more than just the muscle meat."

Leopards are solitary cats, so when Dimitri and his future partner produce cubs, they will be kept in a different exhibit.

"The cubs are usually kept with the mom for about a year and a half to two years,” Hansen said. “On which case they would be on display here in one of our enclosures here in the Asian Highlands."

Dimitri can be seen in the Asian Highlands exhibit at Hogle Zoo. For more information about the zoo, visit their website.