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COAL VALLEY — Niabi Zoo has swapped out its Amur leopard for a younger male with plans to breed him.

Zeke, a four-year-old male Amur leopard, moved to the Kansas City Zoo in April. He was a resident at Niabi Zoo since March 2016. Zeke was replaced by Jilin, a one-year-old male Amur leopard from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. 

Niabi Assistant Zoo Director Tammy Schmidt said moving Zeke and bringing in Jilin was a recommendation by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program developed in 1981 to ensure the survival of endangered species. 

"We work very closely with the SSP coordinators," Schmidt said. "Jilin came in a few weeks after Zeke moved out; it was like a delicate ballet. We worked with Brookfield and Kansas City (zoos) at the same time. It was fabulous working with the Kansas City Zoo."

The Amur leopard, native to southeastern Russia and northern China, is critically endangered. According to the World Wildlife Fund, only 84 Amur leopards have been confirmed in the wild. There are currently about 200 Amur leopards in captivity around the world. 

Schmidt said Jilin was living with his mother and brother at the Brookfield Zoo. While Jilin was in his four-week quarantine after arriving at Niabi, zookeepers freshened up the habitat for him.

"We gave him new logs, added a new outdoor shade shelter and landscaping," Schmidt said. "Once he got here and acclimated to everything, our zookeepers worked with him on behaviors; he picked them up right away. 

"I think the hardest part for him was seeing new cats. He had to get used to his new neighbors."

Jilin went on display by May 1. 

Cindy Kreider, a mammal biologist at the Toledo Zoo, is an Amur leopard coordinator and studbook keeper with the SSP. Schmidt said Kreider is working to import a female Amur leopard from Europe for the purpose of breeding with Jilin at the Niabi Zoo. 

Kreider said the SSP is part of a global management program and works closely with the London Zoo in locating leopards for import from European zoos that will help the genetics of the North American population.

"The importation process is a lengthy one, taking many months to complete the paperwork and be approved," Kreider said. "It will likely be close to a year before the female will arrive. Introduction procedures will then take place between the two leopards until they are comfortable with each other.

"It is a long process, but hopefully the end result will be Niabi Zoo having Amur leopard cubs born and contributing to a program whose mission is to save these beautiful cats from extinction," Kreider said. "Genetics are carefully analyzed to determine the best pairing for each animal in order to ensure healthy offspring."

Kreider said Zeke was transferred to Brookfield Zoo "for an educational exhibit only, which also is an important role in the SSP. It educates visitors to the conservation efforts of AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) zoos that not only manage a healthy zoo population, but the support they give to projects in Russia and China that monitor and protect the wild population."

Schmidt said there are 86 Amur Leopards in the SSP population.

"When it is an SSP recommended move, typically there is no money involved," she said. 

"Jilin is doing fantastic. We are so lucky in our profession."

Niabi Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until the end of October. 

For more information, visit niabizoo.com.

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Sarah is a reporter for the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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