Rare Amur leopard exhibit opens at CT’s Beardsley Zoo

Sofiya, a rare Amur leopard now at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. (Photo by Shannon Calvert)
Sofiya, a rare Amur leopard now at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. (Photo by Shannon Calvert)

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo debuted its newest exhibit last weekend featuring Sofiya, a rare female Amur leopard. Amur leopards are critically endangered, with only 30 to 40 animals left in the wild and only 176 in captivity worldwide.

Born on May 10, 2008 at the St. Louis Zoo, Sofiya arrived at Connecticut’s only zoo in January. She has taken up residence in the newly-remodeled space that once housed the Andean bear exhibit.

“Sofiya has been doing quite well in holding while we’ve been building her new home,” said Beardsley Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “She is such a beautiful animal and she is getting along very nicely with our zoo staff.”

Sofiya’s new exhibit features rock outcroppings that will enable her to explore her surroundings at ground level. It also includes areas as high as 10 feet off the ground, to enable her to view her domain from a different level.

Protecting endangered species

Amur leopards have been known to leap more than 10 feet vertically, so Sofiya will have room to stretch her legs. Visitors will be able to meet Sofiya from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, next to the lynx exhibit.

The exhibit was made possible with the support of the city of Bridgeport and Connecticut Zoological Society, and through donations from zoo patrons, Dancho said.

“When we announced our efforts to bring an Amur leopard here, the response was overwhelming,” he said. “Given how rare these cats are, we are very proud to have her with us.

“It’s a real testament to our zoo’s strong reputation for working to protect endangered species and to educate our guests about them,” Dancho said. “It’s an important part of our mission and we’re justifiably proud of that.”

Agile and fast leopards live in Asia

A rare subspecies of leopard that has adapted to life in the temperate forests from northeast China to the Korean peninsula, Amur leopards often are illegally hunted for their beautiful spotted fur.

The Amur leopard is agile and fast, running at speeds up to 37 miles per hour. Males reach weights of 110 pounds and females up to 90 pounds. They prey on sika, roe deer and hare, but the Amur leopard has to compete with humans for these animals.

Some scientists have reported male Amur leopards remaining with the females after mating, and possibly even helping to rear the young. They live for 10 to 15 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity.

“Amur” is a region in Asia along the border of Russia and China. The Amur River separates the two large nations, essentially from Mongolia to the Pacific Ocean.

About the Beardsley Zoo

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Adult admission (ages 12  older) is $12, children (ages 3 -11) and senior admission (62 and older) is $10, and children under 3 years old are free. Zoo members also are admitted free. Parking at the zoo is free of charge.

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo features 300 animals representing primarily North and South American species. This includes Amur (Siberian) tigers, Brazilian ocelot, red wolves, and golden lion tamarins.

Other highlights at the facility are the South American rainforest and free-flight aviary; prairie dog exhibit with “pop-up” viewing areas; New England Farmyard with goats, cows, pigs, sheep and other barnyard critters; hoofstock trail with bison, pronghorn and deer; indoor carousel, and outdoor picnic grove.

Find out more at www.beardsleyzoo.org.