Tatyana Arzhanova, coordinator of the European programme to breed Far Eastern leopards, told visitors of the Russia's Primeval Nature festival the story of saving Nikolai (Leo 80M). The lecture and screening of the film LEO80: A Leopard's Story took place at the festival on 25 February.
During her lecture, Tatyana Arzhanova spoke about the peculiarities of the northernmost leopard subspecies, methods of studying and monitoring it, and the dangers facing the world's rarest cat. In addition, she told the audience about the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)'s Far Eastern leopard breeding programme. Leopards born under the programme may one day become the progenitors of a second population of leopards in the wild.
"Zoo populations have enough genetic diversity and are physically quite healthy. We select the most suitable pairs and send them to their native habitat. <…> Good, genetically valuable pairs will be sent there to breed in conditions closest to natural ones, with minimal human contact. The cubs of these pairs will be released into the wild," Arzhanova said.
© Ekaterina Sytina
Screening of the film LEO80: A Leopard’s Story at the Russia’s Primeval Nature festival
Nikolai, who lives in the Moscow Zoo nursery, is especially valuable for the breeding programme. This male is the first Far Eastern leopard in 60 years who was sent to the zoo from the wild.
"He is rather quiet. It took him about three months to get used to the new environment. He is friendly and even-tempered, without any bonding with the people who look after him," Arzhanova said.
She also said that Nikolai lives according to the zoo rules and goes hungry once a week, like all beasts of prey do, and for some reason, likes to lie at the bottom of an empty pool.
"Nikolai has already been recommended for breeding. We very much hope (but we won't speak too soon) to have some good news this year," Arzhanova said.
Leo 80M, a cub with an injured paw, was found near the Chinese border in June 2015. The border guards who saved the leopard called him Nikolai. The animal underwent paw surgery and then spent almost a year at the Centre for the Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals in the hope of going back to the taiga one day. The spotted animal's amazing story is the subject of the documentary LEO80: A Leopard's Story by the Zhivaya Planeta (Living Planet) TV channel.