Leopard love is in the air at wildlife park

The look of love is in the air and could help save two species from extinction as an exciting half term approaches at the award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

Tigers Vlad and Tschuna at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
Tigers Vlad and Tschuna at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

A double romance is rekindling hope for the Amur Leopard and Tiger population that has dwindled to dangerously low levels. The love matches are arranged by the European Stud Books based on the best genetic mix of these endangered animals and looks good on paper – but whether romance blossoms is down to animal magnetism…..

Leopards Drake and Freya along with are creating a Valentine’s love story at the walk through safari park near Doncaster and rangers are hoping for a happy ending.

It was not love at first sight for Vlad, a powerful five-year-old male Amur Tiger, who shied away from three-year-old Tschuna’s advances when they first met in September last year.

“He was a complete wimp even though Tschuna is tiny next to him,” said Animal Development Manager Simon Marsh . “She made the first move but he was horrified.

“It’s been a slow courtship but, thankfully, they are getting along fine now – so fingers crossed for the future”

Only 450 Amur Tigers are left in world but the Amur Leopards are even more endangered with only an estimated 45 in the wild, so the romantic pairing of Drake and Freya is a landmark moment in the global fight to save them.

Three-year-old Drake was in playful mood as he and two-year-old Freya got to know each at the 70-acre park, in Branton last week.

“We have just introduced them and they are getting to know each other at the moment but it is early days. All seems to be going well so far,” added Simon “But this is not just about them getting on, the potential future of Amur Leopards is on the line.

“Both Amur Leopards and Tigers have been driven to the point of extinction and an international breeding programme is trying to turn round their numbers. Drake and Freya’s romance is a wonderful Valentine story but there is a lot at stake.

Amur Leopards, the most endangered big cat on the planet, are on the brink through poaching and disappearing habitat, which reduces their ability to find food.

Freya was transferred from Tallinn in Estonia, to be a potential partner for Drake- as part of the international breeding programme with the ultimate aim to reintroduce Amur Leopard to Russia. Drake’s two brothers left YWP last year to take up breeding duties in other European zoos.

“Drake and Freya cannot be released into the wild themselves but their legacy could be the next generations of these incredibly beautiful animals,” added Simon.

“This is a really positive step and it would be so sad if future generations of children never got the chance to see these animals. We have a real opportunity to make a difference and it would be great if, here in Doncaster, we can make a significant contribution to the leopard’s fight back

“This is probably the last generation who can save the environment. If you lose something like the Amur Leopards and Tigers at the top of the chain then the whole natural balance is upset. Other species are placed under threat.

“It’s like a giant game of Jenga. Take one brick away and you weaken the natural structure and then when another goes the whole thing can come tumbling down. We need to work together to safeguard species and make sure that when they are re-introduced it is into a safe environment in which they can thrive.”

There is another two new arrivals at YWP – two 6 Banded or Yellow Armadillos are the latest animals to join the unique collection of some of the world’s most beautiful and rare species, including Giraffes, Lions, and at Project Polar, Victor the Polar Bear, who will hopefully be joined by another bear soon.

YWP keeps growing and the popular Wallaby Walkabout has beenexpanded and refurbished with 250m of extended walkway.

When temperatures drop visitors can enjoy the Safari Village shopping village and café as well as the weatherproof 600 sq m Monkey Play barn with three levels of play equipment in full view of the baboon reserve through glass walls.

Since opening in 2009 YWP has become the UK’s fastest growing and most innovative animal attraction in the UK. Last year 550,000 visitors enjoyed the innovative walk-through experience giving them unrivalled access to some of the most amazing and endangered animals in the world.

For more information go to www.yorkshirewildlifepark.com