The Far Eastern leopard Nikolai, who was saved at Land of the Leopard National Park, has formed his first pair at the Moscow Zoo's Centre for Rare Animal Species Reproduction. His mate is a leopardess named Akra. The couple is expected to establish a new genetic line of leopards in captivity.
The mate for the leopard was chosen by the coordinators of the Far Eastern leopard breeding programme. Akra and Nikolai met in February, moved into a common enclosure after the female's estrus started and lived together for almost a week. Experts separated the cats only at night and closely monitored their behaviour during the day, as feline "love" can be aggressive, even with fights. But the meetings were peaceful.
"We are very happy that Nikolai accepted the ‘bride' chosen especially for him and did not show any aggression or neglect. Now we will wait for healthy cubs to be born. Thanks to that, we will be able to improve the genetic diversity of the Far Eastern leopard population in captivity, which, in turn, is the foundation for conserving and restoring the population of this rare species," said Svetlana Akulova, general director of the Moscow Zoo.
According to Akulova, the mating results will be known in a month and a half, and during this time zoologists will closely watch Akra.
"Nikolai is to begin a new genetic line of leopards in captivity, who are the reserve population of the rarest big cat in the world. Maybe in the future his descendants will be able to return to their home," said Yevgenia Bisikalova, deputy director for research at Land of the Leopard.
Nikolai was found in the summer of 2015 in Land of the Leopard National Park by Russian border guards. The cub, who hurt his paw in a poacher's trap, underwent successful treatment, but it was too risky to release the leopard into the wild because of his injury. In June 2016, experts decided to send the unique feline to the Moscow Zoo's Centre for Rare Animal Species Reproduction.
Nikolai's genetics are especially valuable: he is the first Far Eastern leopard in the last 60 years moved to a zoo from the Primorye taiga.