NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A few guests got a rare glimpse of one of the world’s most threatened cat species Tuesday morning as she underwent her first medical checkup with the Nashville Zoo’s team of veterinarians.
Roza, a 1-year-old melanistic Amur leopard, is the first of her species at the Nashville Zoo. She came to the Zoo about three weeks ago from the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas and will soon be released to her permanent home in a new exhibit called the Leopard Forest.
“She’s a really beautiful girl,” said Dr. Heather Schwartz, Director of Veterinary Services at the Nashville Zoo. “We’re really happy to have her here. It’s going to be a new species for us, but one I think everybody’s going to enjoy.”
The checkup on Tuesday was Roza’s first full physical exam. These exams are regularly performed to ensure animals are healthy and are not much different than a routine doctor’s visit. While sedated, Roza had her blood drawn, x-rays taken and received several vaccines.
It was also the first-time guests got to see her since her arrival at the Zoo as they watched through a viewing window. With a special dark-tinted coat, Roza weighs a little more than a large dog at about 70 pounds. Her species is typically smaller than other leopards.
“She’s very cute. Beautiful markings,” Schwartz said. “She is a melanistic cat, so she has a dark pigment. So, you’ll see that all of her coat is one color, but you can still see her rosettes and markings through that color pattern.”
The Amur leopard is not native to Africa, but rather can be found in the mountainous forests of Eastern Russia and China. However, with only about 100 left in the wild, the Amur leopard is considered the most critically endangered leopard in the world.
Because of that, they can only be found in a handful of Zoos in the United States. Once Roza is settled into her new habitat, the Nashville Zoo hopes to replicate the breeding success achieved with other endangered species to help in the conservation of her species.
“That’s always our number one focus is trying to educate the public about these species and bring awareness to them. A lot of people don’t know about the different species of leopards,” Schwartz said. “But then also to be that security and safety net species for the wild, so hopefully one day we can ensure their populations for the future.”
The Leopard Forest, which will be located along the path to the existing giraffe habitat, is slated to open in spring 2024, with a male leopard eventually joining Roza in the enclosure. Schwartz said Roza will be living in a nearly finished indoor space while the outside is completed.
“Before long she’s going to get to be in her new home while they’re finishing the outside, and we’re really excited for that,” Schwartz said. “That’s going to be a great addition… it’s going to add a lot of new species along that path.”
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Zoo guests will be able to see Roza and her companion as they pass above a guest pathway via an overhead transfer. There will be two other separate habitats along the path, which will be home to colobus monkeys and De Brazza’s monkeys.
Schwartz said people can stay up to date with the construction of the new exhibit on the Nashville Zoo’s social media pages. Guests can also follow the Zoo’s twitter account to see when procedures like Roza’s are being done at the Nashville Zoo’s HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center.
“There’s a big viewing window so people can come up and get a peek into the veterinary world and see what we do on a daily basis,” Schwartz said. “We love sharing all that goes into care behind the scenes. We love people to come up and see us on any given day.”