Early last Thursday morning, Santa Barbara Zoo’s leopard Amur Ajax gave birth to her first cub. The birth marked the first Amur leopard to be born at the zoo in more than 20 years.
The 517-gram female named Marta by Premier Foster Feeder sponsored Marta Holsman Babson, and Henrietta Holsman Fore is healthy and growing. Her mother, Ajax, is currently “the most genetically valuable female Amur leopard in North America,” according to zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Zacharias. “So this first cub of hers will contribute valuable genetics to the population in human care.”
The cub and her mother are now bonding behind the scenes in their den, reuniting after a brief separation when caregivers failed to see any nursings for the first 12 hours. After being reunited, Ajax was seen tending to the cub and displaying “good maternal behaviour,” said Dr Julie Barnes, the zoo’s vice president of animal care and health. The birth went smoothly, and the cub looked very healthy.
“Based on video monitoring, the cubs appear strong and active after birth,” Barnes said. “The first week is a critical period for the survival of the cubs. If all goes well, we will leave the mother and cub alone to bond during this time and continue to monitor them closely via video.”
During the first few months, the mother and cubs will be in the process of bonding and will not be made public to allow a natural relationship to form. Kasha, the cub’s father, will stay in the exhibit. When Marta receives a clean health bill, Kasha and Ajax will split time with the cub in the exhibit.
“In the wild, males and females don’t usually stay together after spawning, so this separation is important for the safety of Ajax and the cubs,” says Zacharias.
The Amur leopards are the most endangered big cats globally, with less than 100 left in the wild. The Santa Barbara Zoo has been trying to breed the species for several years now, and Kasha, who arrived at the zoo in March 2020, was included in these efforts.
The zoo offers to view information as it becomes available, and the public can check out the zoo’s social media channels for regular updates on Ajax and Marta.