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Big Cats

Leopards

This handsome animal is the most agile of the "big cats", and has a wide distribution. It is found throughout tropical Africa and Asia, while black or melanistic forms occur in Malay. Its dappled coat with rosettes gives it a striking appearance in a zoo habitat, but it can easily be imagined how this protective coloration makes it very hard to see among the foliage in its natural haunts. The leopard is a danderous animal in every way, and although it preys mainly on goat, deer, birds etc., it will attack man readily. It has a special appetite for dogs. The black leopard, commonly called "Black Panther," is invariably more savage than the spotted leopard.

Clouded Leopard

A very significant species we used to devote an enormous amount of thought and effort into the management of was the Clouded leopard. The Zoological Society of Glasgow and West of Scotland was its national and European coordinator. Thanks to the work of our staff, we learned a great deal.

Amongst the small cats we hosted were Geoffroy's cats, margays and ocelots. We bred multiple litters of Geoffroy's cats, and in 1983 received an award from the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland for the first breeding of this species in a UK zoo. We also received a Good Husbandry award for the work of the keepers in saving the life of the mother. She endured a breech birth of two kittens, one and a half hours apart, and both trapped by the elbow, requiring the most delicate manual assistance. Our vets informed us that the chances of this happening twice in one lifetime to a cat, never mind twice in the same litter, were one in a million!

The Geoffroy's cats and ocelots, small spotted casts from South America, both have litters of two or three kittens. The margay from the same continent, usually has just one kitten. Our margays were managed cooperatively, with our animals being shared between Chester, Glasgow and Edinburgh Zoos.

To stimulate reproductive behaviour, some off-exhibit holding enclosures were constructed. These were designed to be over four metres in height to provide plenty of sight lines for the small cats. They were inquisitive animals, so we felt they would appreciate the opportunity of observing all that was going on around them.

We had some success in breeding them, but with a very low UK population their future is precarious.

See also: Tigers , Lions , Cheetah

External Resources

Africat The Africat Foundation aims to conserve the big cats of Africa.

Historical Note: In 1823, the 10th Duke of Hamilton had a gardener's store converted to a den, with a run, for his Palace Leopard. The restored "Leopard House" can be seen as part of South Lanarkshire Council's Chatelherault Country Park.