CMZoo Welcomes First Amur Leopard Cubs in Nearly 20 Years

May 19, 2023

UPDATE May 24, 2023 – Our two Amur leopard cubs turn one week old today! Enjoy a few behind-the-scenes clips, including a big stretch, an adorable yawn and lots of wriggling and cuddling.

Keepers say Anya is an absolute champion of a mom. She’s caring for her two cubbies, taking time to groom herself and sleep, and has been regularly interacting with her keeper team.

As you can see, the two tiny cubs are nursing, cuddling and wriggling around well. The little ones’ eyes are still closed. Sexes have not been identified and won’t be for a while. We don’t have naming plans yet. Watch this YouTube short:

TWO SPOTTED, WRIGGLY, CRITICALLY ENDANGERED CUBS BORN AT CMZOO – There were happy tears at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on Wednesday, when Asian Highlands keepers celebrated the long-awaited arrival of two V.I.C.s – very important cubs. It has been nearly 20 years since Amur leopard cubs were born at CMZoo. Three days after Mother’s Day, Anya, a 9-year-old critically endangered Amur leopard became a first-time mom.

The little ones are covered in black spots and their favorite activities seem to be snuggling, nursing and wriggling. They look to be about average size for a leopard cub – around 2 pounds. For the first week or so, they’re pretty vulnerable with closed eyes, but they’re in good paws with Anya.

“Imagine nursing your first baby while having contractions for your second,” said Rebecca Zwicker, animal care manager in Asian Highlands. “I think Anya is absolutely incredible. She looks confident and comfortable with the cubs, and we’re elated for her and her babies. I’m so proud of our animal care team and their commitment to Anya and the future of the Amur leopard species.”

Amur leopards are widely known as the rarest big cats on the planet. These cubs are adorable, certainly, but their existence is hope for the future of their species. Only around 100 individuals remain in the wilds of far east Russia and China. CMZoo’s Amur leopards – which doubled in number from two to four on Wednesday – now represent four percent of the wild population.

That’s why CMZoo has been committed to the Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) and accepted the risky breeding recommendation in 2019. Dad, 7-year-old Anadyr, will not have an active parenting role for the cubs, as is normal for male Amur leopards. Because both Anya’s and Anydyr’s genetics are underrepresented in both wild and human care populations, these cubs are considered very important within the SSP.

The first weeks and months of a leopard cub’s life are extremely fragile, but Zwicker says leopard fans everywhere have reason to feel optimistic.

“It always amazes me when a first-time mom embraces the role as naturally as Anya has,” said Zwicker. “She’s a patient and attentive mom. She knows where those babies are at all times. There’s a lot of cuddling, grooming, nursing and cleaning going on, and we’re seeing Anya take time to groom and care for herself, which is equally important.”

The two-day-old cubs and Anya are bonding well. The first cub born quickly showed instincts to nurse, which helped Anya’s maternal instincts take over for the second cub’s arrival about two hours later. At first, the second cub seemed less active than the first-born cub, and it took a while for it to get the hang of nursing. Once cub #2 smelled where cub #1 was having its meal, it made a baby beeline for the nipple. After a short sibling squabble, a full-bellied cub #1 moved aside for cub #2 to settle in for its first meal. Since then, both cubs have been nursing regularly and cub #2 is quickly catching up to its sibling’s energy level.

Our team is watching the new family remotely via cameras that were pre-placed in Anya’s den. So far, Anya is the only one to see the cubs in person, and we plan for that to continue, since she’s showing great maternal instincts for a first-time mom. The cubs will mark their first milestones with Anya behind the scenes for at least eight weeks, but we’ll be sure to announce when they’re big enough for guests to visit them in Asian Highlands. The cubs’ sexes haven’t been identified and likely won’t be any time soon. There are no plans for names, in line with Zoo tradition to wait 30 days to name a baby.

These two little cubs are stealing staff hearts already (via camera). The squirmy little ones have no idea how much they have just contributed to their species’ future, but we do, and it proves this longtime commitment to the Amur Leopard SSP has paid off.

About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s mountain Zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. In 2023, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was voted #4 Best Zoo in North America and CMZoo’s Rocky Mountain Wild was named #2 Best Zoo Exhibit in North America by USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s goal to help guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Since 2008, CMZoo’s Quarters for Conservation program has raised more than $4.5 million dedicated to frontline conservation efforts around the world. Of the 238 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just a few operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues, special event attendance and donations for funding.