COAL VALLEY, Ill. — There are two new furry faces at the Niabi Zoo. Amur leopards Jilin and Iona are now the parents of two cubs, according to the zoo.
Amur leopards are a critically endangered species due to poaching for their beautiful, spotted fur. This rare subspecies of leopard runs wild in the temperate forests of the Russian Far East, according to the World Wildlife Fund, where they have a 10- to 15-year life expectancy. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years.
In 2019, the Amur Leopard Species Survival planning group chose the Niabi Zoo as a partner to receive and house several Amur leopards from zoos in Europe to mate with Niabi's genetically valuable male, Jilin. After some planning and COVID-19-related delays, leopard Iona was brought in July to the Coal Valley zoo from the Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens.
"We are honored and excited to have been able to contribute to such an important conservation program for such a critically endangered species," Niabi Zoo Director Lee Jackson said. "It speaks very well of the regard in which Niabi is held in the international conservation community, and to the expertise of the Niabi Zoo animal care staff."
Both of first-time parents Jilin and Iona's cubs - a male and female - are thriving, according to a Facebook post from the zoo. Iona gave birth to three cubs, but the third only survived a few days. The zoo's post said Iona has proved to be an "exceptional mother that has been vigilant with her cubs."
The birth of the Niabi cubs was the first report of captive breeding for the species in 2022, Jackson said, and only seven of the leopards were born in 2021 throughout the entire U.S.