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Amur leopards banned from public view at Scottish zoo

Cairngorms breeding programme aims to raise cubs with no human contact.

Rare: There are thought to be less than 60 Amur leopards in the wild
Rare: There are thought to be less than 60 Amur leopards in the wild Jan Morse / RZSS

Two of the world's rarest big cats are coming to a Scottish zoo - but visitors will be banned from seeing them.

A male and female Amur leopard are due to arrive at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie.

A specially built enclosure, that covers a large section of the 105-hectare park in the Cairngorms, has recently been completed to house the pair.

But the leopards, which live in the wild in the mountains of Russia's far southeast, won't be on display as the zoo hopes to breed and rear cubs with almost no human contact.

If they are successful, the zoo plans to release any offspring into the wild in Russia as part of a re-introduction programme.

Off-limits: The new enclosure will not be on view to the public.
Off-limits: The new enclosure will not be on view to the public. Douglas Richardson / RZSS

Douglas Richardson, of RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, said: "Most zoos today exhibit animals which are threatened species, whose zoo populations are maintained as part of a wider conservation effort.

"At RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, we are going one step further.

"A specially designed, off-show, breeding complex for Amur leopards 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 re-introduction project."

There is thought to be fewer than 60 Amur leopards left in the wild, according to a recent study by 15 universities and organisations, including the Zoological Society of London. The Amur leopards are classed as critically endangered.

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