Cross-fostering is not that uncommon among animals. Yet a golden retriever mothering an Amur leopard cub is somewhat unusual, in that this species of Far-Eastern leopards is critically endangered and only 19 to 26 Amur leopards live in the wild of the Russian Far East.
Zoo keepers in Vladivostok had to separate a newborn cub from her cross-tempered mom due to concerns about her own safety and put the cub into the care of the retriever named Tessa.
"We decided to take the [cub] only because her mother - leopardess Alain - has eaten the previous three litters of her cubs. We can't say for sure why this happened. But we decided not to risk another baby," said Viktor Agafonov, a veterinarian at the Vladivostok Zoo.
Tessa, the foster mom, already has four puppies of her own but can still accommodate one more strange-looking puppy for her care, caress and milk.
Zoo keepers also pooled in their efforts onto raising up the Amur leopard cub. They give her formula milk and glucose and other necessary additional ingredients. In three weeks, the cub has doubled in weight and length and is already starting to try and feed on rabbit meat for a special treat.
As the cub has soon outgrown the other retriever puppies, zoo keepers had to find her some companions to socialize and play with.
The zoo readily found and locked on two other growing cubs of the Big Cat. One is a lioness and the other a tigress. Both are two and a half months old and are of similar size as the Amur leopard cub.
"Although it seems these are both Big Cats, their behavior is completely different. The tigress is quieter. But the lioness (Astra), now she wants some sleep and even puts her head on me, but most of the time she keeps jogging and playing. She eats, sleeps, then repeats these actions, jogging, playing, eating again, and then sleeping," said Agafonov.
For socialization, zoo keepers got the trio of cubs a junior Alabai or Central Asian shepherd dog which is strong and meek enough for the playful mini-Big Cats.
"We decided that she should be kind and sociable to have a puppy friend. Well, she should also have the appropriate size and proper psyche. Here the Alabai shepherds are suitable for this. So we chose this dog, with a good pedigree, good blood," said Sergei Asnovin, the director of the Vladivostok Zoo.
When moved from their closed dwelling to a spacious enclosure with a warm house, the cubs and their tutoring dog will forge a friendship which will last at least for one and a half years in that enclosure. Their cross-species friendship may last a lot longer, depending upon their socialization and play together.
So here we can see and sense in the Vladivostok Zoo that cross-fostering is useful for preserving the life of rejected by parents or orphan infants, mainly for species with low reproduction rate in captivity or those threatened by extinction.
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