On Tuesday 12th September, whilst most people were watching a standard Tuesday nights offering on TV, a group of zoo keepers in Norfolk were glued to screens of a different kind, watching live CCTV footage of a female leopard as she went into labour.
Sariska and her partner, Mias, are Sri Lankan leopards, an endangered sub species of leopard endemic to the island of Sri Lanka; both were born in European zoos as part of the European Breeding Programme for this sub species and reside at Banham Zoo, Norfolk. Their numbers in the wild are dwindling, with less than 1000 animals surviving in their natural habitat.
The zoo has kept Sri Lankan leopards for many years and have successfully bred them before but not from this current pair.
Keepers were confident that Sariska was pregnant but were unable to predict accurately the expected date of birth so Sariska was kept under the watchful eye of senior staff via carefully placed CCTV cameras.
On the night in question staff were kept waiting until just before 11pm for Sariska to finally give birth, producing 2 cubs within a matter of 10 minutes.
Thankfully, the same CCTV cameras have enabled staff to monitor the cub’s wellbeing since birth, something that wouldn’t normally be possible, due in equal measure to the secretive nature of leopards at such a time and their dangerous nature when protecting their offspring. The cameras enable staff to check on mother and young whenever they want without causing any disturbance and report that mother and cubs are doing very well.
Sariska rarely chooses to leave her cubs for more than a matter of minutes and is only occasionally bringing the cubs into the outside enclosure where guests can see them. The zoo however is keen to share this success with their guests and have set up a television screen in one of the public shelters at the enclosure so that visitors will be able to view live footage of Sariska and her cubs all day without causing her any disturbance.
Sri Lankan leopards are classified as endangered by the IUCN[i]. The zoo has been an active member of the European Breeding Programme for many years and are currently the only zoo in the UK to keep this sub species. With less than 70[ii] animals in the breeding programme two new births are a very welcome addition, providing a genetic safety net of healthy animals in captivity that could be reintroduced into the wild, should they become extinct.