The ACT region’s only leopard cubs are turning one and they’re marking the occasion with presents and boxes (but mostly the boxes).
Like most cats, Asanka and Chatura love to play with boxes.
They’re the perfect gift for the Sri Lankan leopard cubs as they celebrate their first year.
National Zoo and Aquarium senior keeper Katie Ness says looking after the first cubs bred in Australia has been an amazing experience.
“They absolutely love cardboard boxes, so we’ve got a lot of boxes wrapped that we’ll fill with treats and goodies that they love,” she says.
“It’s come around really quickly actually, it’s hard to believe it’s a whole year now since they were born.”
Because they were born on Christmas eve, the cubs will be getting a joint celebration.
“But it doesn’t mean they’ll be getting half the amount, they’re getting double the presents to make up for it,” Ms Ness says.
Despite lockdowns and restrictions, it’s been a year of highs for Ms Ness with the cubs.
“Having days when the cubs first started to come over and interact with me, or not run and hide when I come into the den,” she says.
“I absolutely love the boys, they’re beautiful.”
Their mother Yakalla is generally a little shy but the boys have really struck out on their own.
“It was a little bit of a challenge in the beginning,” Ms Ness says.
“But now that they’ve found their feet and they leave mum they’re more than happy to be out there and out seeing people.”
Visitors to the zoo have loved the up-close interaction as the curious cubs venture up close to the glass of the enclosure.
They’ve proven a hit with local photographers as well.
“The two cubs race out of the dens at top speed, shoulder to shoulder and try to be the first ones out to get their food,” Ms Ness says.
“We’re seeing a lot of really cool photos of that.”
Crowd numbers have been picking up as school holidays begin, but she’s sure more are on the way, COVID restrictions permitting.
Over the coming year, the cubs are likely to leave the zoo to go into the European Region breeding program for Sri Lankan leopards.
“There aren’t any other facilities in the southern hemisphere that have breeding pairs of leopards at the moment,” Ms Ness says.
“They may go to other zoos within Australia or they may go back into the breeding program in Europe.”
But hope remains there could be more Canberra-born Sri Lankan cubs on the way.