17 June 2016
Big cat Leo80M - also called Nikolay - prepares for flight to Moscow and 'noble mission'.
The leopard is becoming the first in 60 years to be moved from the wild to a zoo. Picture: Centre 'Siberian Tiger'Siberian leopards are one of the world's most endangered species with only 80 alive in the wild and another 200 in captivity. Leo80M's role is to boost the numbers.
The leopard is becoming the first in 60 years to be moved from the wild to a zoo. He is not going on show to the public but at Moscow Zoo, he will entertain females from around the world, also part of a breeding programme that could be the difference between survival and extinction for these rare animals.
Leo80M was found in a poacher's trap almost a year ago by border guards close to the Russian frontier with China. He lost three claws and initially rehabilitation workers in the Land of the Leopard National Park prepared him for a return to the wild.
He is not going on show to the public but at Moscow Zoo, he will entertain females from around the world. Pictures: Land of Leopard, Centre 'Siberian Tiger'He was given hunting tests and passed without problems, but experts feared that his paw could become infected in the wild. So a decision was made to move the big cat to the Center of Reproduction of Rare Species of Animals at Moscow Zoo. Here, any infections can be monitored and controlled.
The leopard is the first to be moved from the wild to a zoo since 1956 when the catching of the endangered species was banned.
Zoologist Ekaterina Blidchenko, who has cared for the leopard, will miss him when he takes up his new breeding duties. 'He used to me, and I was attached to him,' she said. 'For me, he is not just some Amur leopard. He is Leo 80M, a close friend.
'I know by heart all his habits and his every step. He is the one, and it will be very sad to part.'
'The experience of Nikolay's rehabilitation for life in the wild is a first and unprecedented experience with the Amur leopard.' Picture: Centre 'Siberian Tiger', Land of LeopardExperts have gained new insights from their attempts to get the leopard back to the wild, lessons which can be useful for future attempts to prepare big cats for release into the wild.
While numbers of the species in the wild have risen from an alarming 30 to 80 in less than a decade, the future of the Amur leopard is far from assured.
Elena Shevtsova, Deputy Director of Land of Leopard, said: 'The experience of Nikolay's rehabilitation for life in the wild is a first and unprecedented experience with the Amur leopard.
Experts feared that his paw could become infected in the wild. Pictures: Land of Leopard'The experience we had will be useful not only for the rehabilitation of other individuals in the future, but also to improve understanding of the behaviour of leopards in the wild, which is very important for the development of measures for their conservation.'
In Moscow, he will not be on display for zoo visitors, but kept behind the scenes and out of sight, to breed with female leopards from zoos around the globe.