Spotted in Spain: the first leopard born in captivity

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The Independent Online

It was a very proud announcement: mother and child were doing well. Not an unusual message, but the difference, in this case, was that mother is a leopard, taken from South Africa to an estate in Spain, and the offspring is the first leopard to be born in captivity.

It was a very proud announcement: mother and child were doing well. Not an unusual message, but the difference, in this case, was that mother is a leopard, taken from South Africa to an estate in Spain, and the offspring is the first leopard to be born in captivity.

The happy event has caused great excitement among zoologists, who despaired of rearing leopards outside their natural habitat. The proud and solitary felines are reluctant to mate with animals with whom they have grown up, considering them quasi-siblings with whom copulation would amount to incest. "The fact that they were reared together meant that the female refused to copulate with a creature it considered her brother, so the attempts by the male were always rebuffed," Manfred Heidenreich said.

Mr Heidenreich achieved his breakthrough by hand-rearing Bagheera, and her intended mate, Shere Khan, from birth. This meant not only that the two animals were tamed, but that Mr Heidenreich was aware of the female's exact moment of ovulation, and hence her optimum moment for conception.

But the best-laid plans often founder and - as Mr Heidenreich had feared - Bagheera showed no interest in Shere Khan. So he took her to Germany and introduced her, at her most fertile moment, to a male in Jaderberg zoo. Months later, Bagheera gave birth to three cubs, a male and two females. Only Bunjii, the male, survived, bottle-fed with imported milk. Bagheera came in season once more, and made a return visit to Jaderberg, where she became pregnant again. Her new litter is due in November.

Mr Heidenreich attributes his success not only to identifying the right moment in the reproductive cycle, but to the good health and tranquillity the animals enjoy in his purpose-built finca, or estate, where, he says, they develop as if in the wild. "A healthy animal without fear is a guarantee of success," he said.

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