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Amur leopard awaits mate at Utah's Hogle Zoo

Published August 21, 2013 9:28 am

Captive breeding • Dimitri the Amur leopard was brought to Utah to take part in a species survival plan. The first order of business: To help him gain some weight before a ''nice lady friend'' is found to keep him company.
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There's a new kid in town at Utah's Hogle Zoo, a studly Amur leopard getting ready to be a ladies' man.

Dimitri spent much of Monday prowling around his new bachelor pad in the zoo's Asian Highlands exhibit, his first day outside after a month of being in quarantine following his mid-July arrival from the Minnesota Zoo.

"He's a very curious animal. He wasn't fearful at all, like a lot of cats are," said Stephanie Natt, senior keeper in Asian Highlands. "He explored every inch of the exhibit."

Now 14 months old, the leopard equivalent of being a teenager, Dimitri came to Hogle Zoo to breed. His success in doing so is important: Only 35 to 40 Amur leopards are believed to be living in the wildlands of Far East Asia, and the population in zoos is only about 200 worldwide.

"As soon as we can find a nice lady friend for him, we're hoping to have some cubs," said zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen. "One of the great functions of zoos is keeping these species around so you can always see what an Amur leopard looks like."

It might not be a matter of love at first sight, Natt noted.

Leopards are solitary creatures, so there's no telling how well a pair will hit it off. As long as they mate it's all OK, she added, because the arranged marriage will be based on genetic matching compiled by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' species survival plan.

"It's like computer dating for cats," Natt quipped.

Before Dimitri becomes a man about town, he still needs to grow up a bit. He's still kind of a scrawny teenager, she said, who needs to gain some weight and add some sexual maturity.

Time will take care of the latter, but to bulk him out, Dimitri will be fed three to four pounds of food per day in his veterinarian-approved diet.

Twice a week, Natt said he will get a cow bone for a bonus. Then, best of all, a dead rabbit once or twice a month.

"Dimitri already has proven he's a good hunter, killing local birds," she said. "He's supplementing his diet with birds that come into his exhibit."

With Dimitri in town, Hogle Zoo's other Amur leopard, Vlad, is on his way out. Vlad's a great cat but his bloodlines have kept him out of the captive breeding program, so he's being moved to a nonbreeding zoo, Natt said.

Dimitri will join a Hogle Zoo cat population that includes Amur tigers, snow leopards, Siberian lynx, Pallas cats and other smaller cat species. The zoo will add lions next year, she added.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

Amur leopard

Scientific name • Panthera pardus orientalis

AKAs • Far Eastern leopard, Korean leopard, Manchurian leopard

Claim to fame • Often considered the rarest big cat in the wild. With only three to four dozen believed to be living in the wild, the leopard is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List of Threatened Species."

Habitat • Now restricted to southern tip of Russia's Far East border with China and the Korean Peninsula.

Body • Longer-legged than most leopard species, an average male Amur weighs 70 to 105 pounds, although really large males have reached 165 pounds. Females weigh 50 to 95 pounds.

Prey • Deer, wild boar, hares and badgers