SALT LAKE CITY -- When an Amur Leopard named Zeya got out of its enclosure at Hogle Zoo, staff faced a series of difficult decisions but one thing was clear.
If the leopard posed an immediate threat to people, “lethal force would have been used,” said Nancy Carpenter, a senior veterinarian at the zoo.
Killing even one of the rare leopards would be a major blow to worldwide conservation efforts.
“Some estimates are as little as 60 of them left in the wild,” said Erica Hansen, Hogle Zoo’s Spokeswoman.
The zoo actually has two of the rare cats, a male and a female.
“We do have a clearance to breed,” said Hansen, adding they hope to have cubs in the future.
According to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), 220 Amur leopards are in Zoos around the world. In June of 2015, a new effort was introduced to save the rare cats from extinction.
The ZSL and the Moscow Zoo are building special enclosures in the leopard’s native habitat in southeast Russia. Established breeding pairs will be brought to the enclosures. The hope is to have cubs born in their native environment before one day being released into the wild.
The Hogle Zoo’s mating pair probably will not be traveling to Russia but any viable pair is key to keeping the species alive. The ZSL writing:
The Critically Endangered Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is probably the only large cat for which a reintroduction programme using zoo stock is considered a necessary conservation action.
Zeya’s romp outside her enclosure proved both short-lived and of short distance. She was spotted by an employee at 7 a.m. in her exhibit.
At 9:30 a.m., she was found outside but only by a few feet.
Zeya had climbed onto a beam and fallen asleep. She was tranquilized and safely captured, while guests at the zoo were locked in the nearest indoor spaces.
“Since she was asleep, since we were able to assess that and approach her safely we had the best outcome we could have today,” Carpenter said.
Information on the ZSL and Moscow Zoo join program to save the Amur Leopard can be found here: https://www.zsl.org/conservation/news/plan-for-amur-leopard-reintroduction-approved