Zoo mourns rare and beloved Amur leopard Kia

March 29, 2016 - 4:48pm

Animal staff will remember 20-year-old leopard's playful, 'one-of-a-kind' spirit

Kia, a beloved Amur leopard who may have been the oldest of her extremely rare subspecies, was humanely euthanized at the Oregon Zoo today after a decline related to her advanced age, officials said.

"Given that there are fewer than 300 of these animals left in the entire world, every passing feels particularly poignant," zoo curator Amy Cutting said. "But of course this one is very personal for us. Kia was one of a kind, and her loss will be keenly felt by everyone who had the opportunity to know her."

At 20, Kia was the oldest Amur leopard in any facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums — and may have been the oldest anywhere on the planet. She was born Oct. 9, 1995, and came to Portland from Pennsylvania's Erie Zoo in 2007. She was popular with zoo visitors and staff — forming especially strong bonds with keepers, several of whom had worked with Kia since her arrival here.

Although her reproductive years were behind her by the time she came to Portland, Kia raised nine cubs over her lifetime — around 3 percent of the entire world population of Amur leopards — and she was once the "cover girl" for the AZA's cooperative Amur leopard Species Survival Plan.

"We appreciate the excellent care Kia received at the Oregon Zoo," said Cynthia Kreider, director of the Erie Zoo and leader of the Amur leopard SSP. "She had a good life, raised a bunch of cubs, and was an excellent mother. She contributed a lot to the survival of this critically endangered subspecies."

In 2012, Kia was joined at the Oregon Zoo by the male leopard Borris, and the two got along well. Amur leopards are solitary animals for the most part, but Kia proved an exception and somehow managed to keep the notoriously cantankerous Borris in check.

"She was the only female who ever put Borris in his place enough to live peaceably, and she would even play with him," Cutting said. "Borris was hand-raised and did not understand how to treat a female. He came to us after several unsuccessful attempts to introduce him to other cats. But Kia had raised several litters of cubs in her lifetime and didn't put up with any guff. She taught him manners."

In 2012, Kia was included in an Oregonian article about elderly Oregon Zoo inhabitants that highlighted ways keepers and veterinary staff care for animals approaching the end of life. In 2014, she was diagnosed with kidney disease, a common ailment in geriatric felines. Although the disease can be slowed with medicines, and symptoms can be somewhat alleviated, it is a progressive condition that often leads to compromised quality of life. For the past two years, animal-care staff had been closely monitoring Kia to make sure she did not suffer, and today, zoo staff made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

"She was having mostly good days," Cutting said. "But her condition was deteriorating, and when she lost her enthusiasm for food — a very rare thing for her — and became less engaged with keepers and Borris, we knew it was time to let her go."

Amur leopards, which are native to southeastern Russia, are considered the most endangered big cats in the world. Poaching, inbreeding, forest fires and human encroachment have reduced the wild population of this leopard subspecies to around 50-70 individuals.

North American and European zoos are participating in coordinated breeding programs to help preserve the rare subspecies, and a plan was recently approved to reintroduce zoo-reared Amur leopards in a portion of their native habitat.

For more information about Amur cat conservation and ways to help the subspecies, visit the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance's website: www.amur-leopard.org. ALTA is an international coalition of organizations working for the conservation of Amur tigers and leopards in the wild.