The adorable Amur leopard cubs were born in an Illinois zoo earlier this week.
new leopard cub
Credit: Rob / Adobe Stock

With fewer than 100 Amur leopards left in the wild, they are the most endangered species of big cat in the word. But this week, a zoo in Illinois released some pretty fantastic news, announcing the successful birth of two Amur leopard cubs.

On its Facebook page Tuesday, the Niabi Zoo said both Amur cubs, a female and male, are healthy and thriving. Unfortunately, the litter initially included a third cub, but that little one passed away after only a few days.

"We are honored and excited to have been able to contribute to such an important conservation program for such a critically endangered species," the zoo wrote. "It speaks very well of the regard in which Niabi is held in the international conservation community and to the expertise of the Niabi Zoo animal care staff."

The Amur cubs' story began in 2019, when the Amur Leopard Species Survival planning group decided to partner with the zoo and bestow it with a precious gift: a female Amur leopard Iona from the Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens in Great Britain. The partners hoped Iona would form a productive mating pair with Niabi's Amur leopard Jilin, a male with valuable genetics.

Iona and Jilin's new cubs will hopefully help conserve the species' dwindling population by protecting the genetic diversity it needs to repopulate in the wild one day. The zoo said only seven Amur cubs were born in the United States in 2021, and Niabi's cubs are the first reported Amur leopards born in captivity this year. Iona and Jilin are first time parents, and Iona is proving to be an exceptional mother, according to the zoo.

Amur leopards live in temperate forests in the far eastern parts of Russia. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Amur leopards can run up to 37 miles per hour and leap around 10 feet vertically and 19 feet horizontally. In the wild, Amur leopards can live for an estimated 10–15 years, and in captivity they can live up to 20 years.

Amur leopards are sometimes also called Far East leopards, Manchurian leopards, or Korean leopards.