The female cub has melanism, an extremely rare black color variant in big cats

By Kelli Bender
March 08, 2019 03:28 PM
Credit: Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is seeing spots, and they are excited.

The zoo’s 6-year-old Amur leopard, Freya, gave birth to three cubs on Jan. 25. Two of the cubs, a boy and a girl, survived the birth — the other cub had to be euthanized due to “maternal-induced injuries,” according to the zoo.

Keepers at the Beardsley Zoo are hand-raising the two remaining cubs. Both of the babies had to be removed from their mother’s care, who “began hyper-grooming behaviors, which posed a danger to their wellbeing.”

The black, female cub loss her tail because of her mother’s hyper-grooming. She had to undergo emergency surgery to repair the injury, but is doing well now. The other cub and Freya are healthy and doing well too.

Credit: Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo

Amur leopards are considered the world’s rarest cat. According to the zoo, there are only 80 of the critically-endangered animals left in the wild.

“Amur leopards are on the brink of extinction,” Zoo Director Gregg Dancho said in a statement. “The Species Survival Plan’s breeding recommendation is designed to bolster the number of individuals in human care, for potential future breeding, as well as the opportunity to return certain members of the species back to the wild someday. The birth of these cubs brings a few more precious Amur leopards to the population, which can help ensure the survival of these majestic animals for future generations.”

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Not content with being the rarest cat in the world, one of Beardsley Zoo’s Amur leopard cubs also has a rare color variant. The female cub has melanism, “an extremely rare black color variant in big cats. Melanistic cats have a condition where the body produces an excess of black pigment, the opposite of albinism.”

The cubs and Freya will remain behind-the-scenes under the watchful eyes of their keepers until the cubs are a few weeks older. Once the cubs are bigger, stronger and a little more independent, they will make their public debut at the zoo.