Spotting the perfect lair for a leopard

April 28, 1995|By Tia Matthews | Tia Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

If you see spots during your next trip to the Baltimore Zoo, nothing's wrong with your vision. It's just the African-spotted leopard, the zoo's newest attraction.

The female leopard, from South Africa, weighs about 100 pounds and has been at the zoo since Feb. 6. After a quarantine period and adjustments to her new environment, the leopard will be introduced to zoo visitors today.

"She's perfect," said Sandy Kempske, the zoo's curator of mammals. "She has no scars or marks. And she's a very vocal cat. She talks to humans like she would talk to another leopard."

The 2-year-old, unnamed leopard was taken last year by South African zoo officials, after they learned a private citizen had captured her. After the leopard stayed briefly in the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, officials decided she had been raised by humans from a young age and was unsuitable to return to the wild. "She's very calm and playful, but she's still a wild leopard," said Roger C. Birkel, executive director at the Baltimore Zoo.

The yearlong construction of the $400,000 Leopard Lair, her new home, was finished Wednesday. The exhibit, a notable improvement from the cages that house the zoo's other two leopards, marks the first new exhibit since the African Watering Hole opened in 1992.

The other leopards, 18-year-old males, are incompatible and will not join the new leopard in her home. Officials sought a younger, more active leopard for the Leopard Lair.

The Leopard Lair has a naturalistic rock-cliff, a grassy knoll and a Wye oak tree.

The leopard visited her new home twice recently and ran across the lawn, climbed the tree and noticed the zebras in a neighboring exhibit, officials said.

"She's going to be a great treat for people to watch," Mr. Birkel said.

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