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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 15:52 GMT
Rare cub ventures into public eye
Ascha the Amur Leopard with her three-month-old unnamed cub at Marwell Zoo
The three-month-old cub had not left its den before

A leopard cub thought to be one of the most endangered creatures on the planet has ventured out of its zoo den and into the public eye for the first time.

The female Amur leopard cub, which remains unnamed, was born at Marwell Zoo, Hampshire, in November.

A recent census found less than 35 of the creatures, which like to roam large areas of wilderness, left in the wild in far eastern Russia.

Members of the public have been invited to suggest names for the cub online.

The birth was part of a European conservation breeding programme to try to save the breed from extinction.

Until now the three-month-old cub has been kept inside with its mother Ascha.

Plans are in place to begin the long process of reintroducing the species back to the wild
Marwell Zoo spokeswoman

Last week it experienced its first human contact, when it was sedated and taken for a check up by zoo staff.

Amur leopards were once found in the forests of Russia, Korea and China but their range has diminished due to poaching, as well as the loss of their habitat due to competition with humans for land.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which carried out the census of Amur leopards, has classified the breed as endangered and threatened with extinction.

A zoo spokeswoman said: "Amur leopards face an uncertain future.

The three-month-old cub at its medical check up
The cub's first human contact came last week with a medical check up

"As well as risks posed by man, the small worldwide population size means that the species is particularly vulnerable to inbreeding which can cause genetic problems including reduced fertility.

"Plans are in place to begin the long process of reintroducing the species back to the wild."

In 2005 the zoo bred an Amur leopard called Amirah, but the three-month-old cub entered its father's enclosure and was mauled to death in front of visitors.

In 2003 a two-year-old Amur leopard at the zoo, called Jade, escaped from her enclosure into a tree, but died after falling four metres (13ft) when it was shot by a tranquilliser dart.

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