December 23, 2013, Colorado Springs, CO – On Saturday, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo said farewell to an extraordinary Amur leopard named Kashka, while celebrating the importance of his long and fruitful life.

Kashka was 22 years old. He exceeded a typical captive Amur leopard’s life expectancy by nearly 5 years and lived nearly double the life expectancy of his wild counterparts. Due to his advanced age, he had been on a quality-of-life watch at the time of his passing. After a comprehensive evaluation, staff made the humane decision to euthanize him on the morning of December 21, 2013.

“When we lose an animal, it is like losing a part of our family,” Tracy Thessing, Director of Animal Collections, said. “Although it does not make it any easier, we realize, just like human life, there are births and deaths; it’s the circle of life.”

The Zoo takes the life-long care of animals extremely seriously and always strives to give their animals medical care similar to what humans receive. “Our animals receive preventative medicine, vet checks on a regular basis and, of course, great care when they become ill or at the end of their life when it is time to say goodbye,” Thessing said.

There are fewer than 40 Amur leopards in the wild – making them critically endangered. Kashka was very important to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Program (SSP). He did his job well, siring four litters. Some of his offspring have reproduced, and one of those offspring has also reproduced, meaning there are three additional generations of cats because of Kashka. His legacy lives on in 15 living Amur leopards across North America. In the future, hopefully, one of Kashka’s descendants will make it back to the wild.

According to the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), Amur leopards in zoo collections are necessary to saving the species in the wild in the future. Experts are currently formulating a reintroduction plan that would include releasing captive-born leopards, like Kashka’s offspring, into an area in Russia where Amur leopards have not lived in approximately 30 years. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation program helps to fund ALTA’s efforts to conduct this type of wild release and to protect wild Amur leopards and tigers.

Zoos all over the world are making a difference for many endangered species. If not for zoos, there would not currently be black-footed ferrets living on our nation’s prairie lands, the California condor would not be flying wild, the Mexican grey wolf would not be running free and the future of many species of amphibians in Panama would surely be doomed for extinction. Not only are zoos working to put endangered species back into the wild, they are also working to ensure viable captive-bred populations for future needs.

“Most people will never have an opportunity to see an Amur leopard in the wild,” Thessing said. “But Kashka was able to help people understand why it is so important to save the species.” Kashka was described by his keepers as being very fierce – he taught all who encountered him to respect big cats.

Kashka will be greatly missed.

About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s ONLY mountain zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s hope that guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Of the 224 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just nine operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues and donations for funding.

For further information or unique press opportunities, contact:

Erica Meyer
Phone: 719.633.9925 ext. 140 
Email: emeyer@cmzoo.org

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