Amur leopards will be off-show to visitors at Scottish park

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Amur leopard ArinaImage source, Jan Morse
Image caption,
Arina is one of the leopards coming to the Scottish park

Two of the world's rarest big cats are to join a zoo's collection, but visitors will not be able to see them.

A female and a male Amur leopard are being introduced to a new enclosure at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park.

The society hopes that by keeping the cats off-show they will breed and rear cubs almost devoid of human contact.

If cubs are reared at the site in the Cairngorms it is planned to release them into the wild in Russia.

Image source, Jan Morse
Image caption,
Freddo is also joining the collection at the park in the Cairngorms

Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the park near Kincraig, said: "A specially designed, off-show, breeding complex for Amur leopard is now complete and it was made possible due to a very generous anonymous donation.

"As the park has large, undeveloped areas, it gave us the opportunity to build an extensive leopard facility that would allow us to produce and rear cubs that were not familiar with humans, making them directly eligible for the Russian reintroduction project."

Image source, Douglas Richardson
Image caption,
The new Amur leopard enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park

The male, Freddo, was born in Tallinn Zoo in Estonia and the female, Arina, was born at Twycross Zoo in the Midlands. Both were born in 2014.

Mr Richardson said: "If our leopards produce and rear cubs this year, we could be in a position to return cats to Russia by mid to late 2018, which is very exciting as our approach will dramatically abbreviate the reintroduction process.

"Our Amur leopards will never be on show to our visitors but we hope to create an information hub that will explain all about this exciting conservation project and hopefully educate people about the plight of these animals."

There are thought to be fewer than 70 Amur leopards in the wild.

Amur tigers, snow leopards and three polar bears are also in the park's collection.

Two of the polar bears, female Victoria and male Arktos, have been sharing the same enclosure. Park staff hope they will mate.

The bears first went into the same enclosure together last year. Victoria did not later go on to have cubs.