Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Zoo

Early last Thursday morning, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Amur leopard Ajax gave birth to her first cub. The birth marked the first Amur leopard born at the zoo in more than 20 years.

The 517-gram female cub, named Marta by Premier Foster Feeder sponsors Marta Holsman Babson and Henrietta Holsman Fore, is healthy and thriving. Her mother, Ajax, is currently “the most genetically valuable female Amur leopard in North America,” according to zoo spokesperson Jennifer Zacharias. “So this first cub from her will contribute valuable genetics to the population in human care.”

The cub and her mother are now bonding behind the scenes in their den, reunited after a brief separation when caretakers did not see any nursing in the first 12 hours. After being reunited, Ajax was seen nursing the cub and exhibiting “good maternal behavior,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s vice president of animal care and health. The birth went smoothly, and the cub is looking strong and healthy.

“Based on video monitoring, the cub appeared strong and active after birth,” Barnes said. “The first week is a critical period for cub survival. If all goes well, we will leave mother and cub alone to bond during this time and continue monitoring them closely by video.” 

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During the first several months, mother and cub will be in the bonding process and will not be visible to the public to allow a natural relationship to form. Kasha, the father of the cub, will remain in the exhibit. When Marta receives a clean bill of health, Kasha and Ajax will split time with the cub in the exhibit.

“In the wild, males and females usually do not remain together after breeding occurs, so this separation is important for the safety of Ajax and the cub,” Zacharias said.

Amur leopards are the most endangered big cats in the world, with fewer than 100 remaining in the wild. The Santa Barbara Zoo has been attempting to breed the species for several years now, and Kasha, who arrived at the zoo in March 2020, was brought in as part of these efforts. 

The zoo provides viewing information as soon as it becomes available, and the public can check the zoo’s social media channels for regular updates on Ajax and Marta.

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