WATCH: First pictures of rare leopard cubs born at Banham Zoo
- Credit: Archant
Banham Zoo is welcoming its newest arrivals after two rare leopards were born.
Sri Lankan leopard Sariska gave birth to two cubs on June 4, to the delight of Banham zookeepers.
The cubs do not yet have names as their genders will remain unknown until their first veterinary check-up, which takes place when they reach eight weeks old.
It marks the second occasion Sariska and her breeding partner, Mias, have had cubs together, after their first two were born in 2017.
Mike Woolham, animal manager at the zoo, described the nervous wait after Sariska disappeared to give birth.
“We have CCTV streaming to our laptops so we can see everything that’s going on,” said Mr Woolham, who has worked at Banham for 23 years.
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“We have what we call a cubbing box and a mother will go in through a small hole and give birth. It sounds great but it’s quite an anxious thing.
“In the old days a big cat would go into a box and you couldn’t see inside, so you had to trust she knew what she was doing. Now you are sitting there watching nervously.”
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Targeted by hunters for their fur and persecuted as a pest, Sri Lankan leopards are classed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and their wild population is less than 1,000.
But Sariska and Mias are part of a European breeding programme for endangered species and helped Banham become the first UK animal collection to breed Sri Lankan leopards.
They came to Banham in 2015 - Sariska from Bratislava Zoo and Mias from Le Pal zoo in France - and their first litter of cubs were the first big cats of their subspecies to be born at the Norfolk zoo for a decade.
In a year-and-a-half’s time, the latest newborns will likely be transferred to another zoo, ready to breed themselves.
“In the wild the natural point of dispersal for big cats is about 18 months,” added Mr Woolham. “That’s the point at which the mum will send them off into the world, and we try and follow that in zoos.
“The coordinator of the breeding programme will recommend where they should go, but a lot of thought goes into deciding which zoo and breeding partner is right for them.”