- By Charlotte Cox and Caroline Densley
- BBC News
An Amur leopard – “the world’s rarest big cat” – is sneaking into its new enclosure after arriving at Dartmoor Zoo.
Freddo is an expert at climbing walls and jumping between trees, so his new home was safe, bosses said.
The zoo said it also registered the nine-year-old boy on an “animal dating site” to find him a mate.
Benjamin Mee, CEO of the Dartmoor Zoological Society, described Freddo as “beautiful”.
He said: “I first saw him seven years ago at Highland Wildlife Park when he was still a youngster and that’s how long we’ve been planning to bring him here.”
There are believed to be just 140 Amur leopards in the wild and 300 in European zoos, the society said.
Freddo was bred in the wild before being kept in captivity, but is now part of a breeding program that aims to reintroduce the endangered species to its native Siberia, Mee said.
“This is the rarest big cat in the world and that is why reintroduction is so important,” he added.
Freddo was placed on the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), dubbed the “animal dating site” by Mr Mee.
The system helps find endangered animals for breeding.
“It is necessary to examine the studbook of animals considered rare and threatened with extinction,” added Mee.
“All my efforts over the next few years will be to find a female and see if the offspring can be returned to the wild.”
Dartmoor Zoo is now raising funds to create a separate and “monumentally expensive” enclosure for a female leopard.
Freddo will be fed meat, including rabbits and Dartmoor ponies, as part of a “stewardship programme” by the landowners.
‘A true landmark’
Although Freddo, who was born in Estonia, bears some resemblance to an African leopard, Mee said he is “a little taller, with longer legs and a shaggier face.”
He added: “Leopards are very strong and very adaptable cats because they are not at the top of the food chain.
“In every ecosystem where there are leopards there is always a tiger or a bear or something else above them, which means they have to be alert all the time.
“They can climb a steep wall or climb trees, so we had to put plastic covers on them.”
Freddo joined the zoo’s collection of big cats, which includes lions, tigers, a jaguar and a lynx.
Their new home features Siberian cherry and larch trees, provided by sister charity Growth 4 Good.
Mee said the big cat, who has lived in four zoos previously, settled into his new home relatively quickly, with a specialist on hand to look for signs of stress.”
“He came out of the box cautiously with his ears back, wandered around, sniffed and then his ears came forward and he jumped onto the platform,” he added.
“It’s a real milestone for us, now we have all kinds of big cats.
“He is genuinely at the forefront of one of the best conservation programs in the world and we are part of that.”
Freddo’s enclosure will be open to the public on November 26th.