Most people dream of the day they can retire and move down to sunny Florida. But what about when you already live in Florida? And what about when you’re a 22-year-old leopard living at the Central Florida Zoo?
That’s right, our leopard is retiring! She will be moving into a behind-the-scenes area at the Zoo to have a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of a busy day at the Zoo. Born in 1996, our leopard is 22 years old. A leopard’s average lifespan in the wild is estimated to be in the late teens, with leopards in AZA-accredited facilities often living into their early twenties. This move will make sure that our Golden Girl is as comfortable as possible.
To account for our leopard’s advanced age, our Animal Care Team works daily to ensure her comfort and monitor any behavioral changes. Steps have been built leading to platforms, and she often receives extra hay bedding and heaters in cooler weather before other cats at the Zoo do. Additionally, voluntary blood draws ensure that our veterinarian can monitor blood levels without any stress to the animal. Our leopard also voluntarily receives shots and medication when needed. Years of training and positive reinforcement have resulted in our keepers and veterinarians being able to give our elderly leopard the proper healthcare she needs with as little stress as possible.
The Zoo’s leopard is melanistic, which is a genetic trait that results in a higher production of melanin, a dark pigment. If you look in the right lighting, you can still see her spots in the black fur! Although leopards are native to both Asia and Africa, melanistic leopards are usually only found in southeast Asia, as the dense rainforests create many shadows for the leopard to blend in with. “Black panther” is a misnomer: black panther could refer to any number of melanistic cats, such as a melanistic leopard or melanistic jaguar.
In the wild, leopards are one of the most widely distributed cats, but are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Redlist as populations continue to decline. Habitat fragmentation, increased wildlife trade, retaliation for livestock predation, harvesting skins for ceremonial use, decline in prey species, and poorly managed trophy hunting are some of the threats facing these big cats.
Thanks to everyone that visited the Zoo for our leopard’s “Retirement Party” on March 24, 2018. She successfully made the move to a behind-the-scenes habitat.
Our 22-year-old melanistic leopard is doing great in her behind-the-scenes home! She enjoys getting to watch, smell, and hear the other animals that are also living behind-the-scenes, such as some of our birds of prey from the Flying High show and some of our other retirees! She also enjoys being much closer to the Nutrition Center: she has direct line of sight to see when her Animal Care Specialists are headed over with tasty meals. She continues to participate in training sessions with her keepers, and still gets plenty of enrichment!
Senior Carnivore and Small Mammals Specialist, Tarah, has actually been taking care of our melanistic leopard for most of her career! Tarah cared for our leopard at the Naples Zoo in South Florida, and they both arrived at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens in 2014.