Toñi, the leopard who died. / SUR

Bioparc Fuengirola mourns loss of Toñi, a leopard that it had cared for since 2005

She was one of the longest-living females in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the Sri Lankan subspecies

RAQUEL MERINO

Bioparc Fuengirola is in mourning. A leopard that they had cared for since 2005 has died. The health of Toñi, the name of this Sri Lankan feline, had always been excellent, as the zoo pointed out in a statement on Wednesday, 27 July. But three years ago she was diagnosed with kidney problems and later with degenerative osteoarthritis, both common illnesses in elderly felines.

Coming from the French zoo of Liseaux, Toñi was born in September 2003, and would have been 19 years old in a few months. Bioparc Fuengirola points out that this age made her one of the longest-living females in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) of the Sri Lankan leopard. This subspecies of leopard, which is in danger of extinction and is classified as vulnerable by the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, reaches 10 or 12 years of age in the wild, a life expectancy that is extended to 16 or 17 in zoos.

"It is very common for domestic and wild felines to develop kidney problems over the years. This is understandable in view of the high age they reach with good care in zoos. In the wild it is rare for a leopard to reach such an age and therefore these diseases do not have time to manifest themselves. When a predator like the leopard is not at one hundred percent, it cannot hunt and other competitors dispute its territory and win," explains Jesús Recuero, veterinarian and technical director of Bioparc Fuengirola.

Toñi had been a mother on four occasions, three of them with the male leopard housed at Bioparc Fuengirola, with whom she lived for 14 years. Her cubs were sent to different member parks of the European Endangered Species Programme for this subspecies.

The Sri Lankan leopard's only natural habitat is the rainforests, forests and arid scrublands of this island in the Bay of Bengal. This is the only place where they live in the wild.

Poaching and the destruction of their natural habitat have caused these felines to be categorised as endangered. According to official records, it is estimated that there are fewer than 800 wild cats left in Sri Lanka.

In order to halt this decline, the EEP programme was created to establish a captive breeding programme and promote conservation actions in their habitat. It currently has 66 leopards distributed among the 26 zoos that participate in this initiative.