SAN DIEGO — The population of the world’s most endangered big cat species has grown by a set of twins, born at the San Diego Zoo.
The new cubs are Amur leopards, an Asian species of big cat that has fewer than 300 left on Earth, according to the Zoo.
“A birth of twins is exceptional, no matter the species,” the Zoo wrote in a press release. “However, when those twins are Amur leopards… the births are especially significant.”
The cubs have yet to be named, but they have left the birthing den with their mother, Satka, and are roaming about their enclosure.
According to the Zoo, the wildlife care specialists took a hands-off approach to the birth of the twins, allowing them to bond and learn from their mother. Zoo staff closely monitored the cubs through a remote camera system to analyze their behaviors and document the cubs’ development.
“We are absolutely thrilled with the progress made by the cubs,” said Gaylene Thomas, wildlife care manager at the San Diego Zoo. “They have grown so much, and have already started showcasing their unique personalities. The cubs will get their first full veterinary exam soon, and we will know more, including their sex.”
This is the third litter of Amur leopards born at the San Diego Zoo through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Amur Leopard Species Plan. According to the wildlife center, the plan is part of a nationwide effort by conservationists to ensure genetic diversity and healthy, self-sustaining populations of animals threatened by extinction.
Amur leopards are categorized as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, due to extensive habitat loss and poaching for their coats.
Wildlife experts estimate that fewer than 100 of these leopards live in their native habitat in the Primorye region of eastern Russia. The remaining leopards, about 200, live in “managed human care” at conservation and zoological organizations across the globe.
Efforts to preserve the Amur leopard population, according to the Zoo, have helped increase the population by more than 50%.
“Witnessing the birth of Amur leopards is always an emotional experience,” Thomas said. “There are so few of them left in their native habitat that every birth carries so much weight—and every living individual promises a glimmer of hope.”