Edinburgh Zoo under fire over “heartbreaking” treatment of rare leopard


VISITORS and animal welfare experts have criticised Edinburgh Zoo for its “heartbreaking” treatment of one of the world’s most endangered animals.

Seven-year-old Amur Leopard Skodje – one of only 200 left in the world – is the subject of complaints that he is constantly pacing in an enclosure measuring around 20ft wide and 30ft deep.

The big cat arrived at the zoo almost six years ago and was put in the enclosure as a “temporary” measure while a new home is built at the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore.

Critics of the zoo say there is still no sign of the new home being completed and Skodje’s pacing is a classic sign of distress.

Amur Leopards would normally roam areas of Siberia ranging in size from 19 to 120 square miles.

Visitors have complained about the leopard's pacing but the zoo says it is normal behaviour
Visitors have complained about the leopard’s pacing but the zoo says it is normal behaviour


The leopards, which once lived in China and Korea as well as Russia, are among the most endangered creatures in the world.

There are thought to be as few as 14-20 adults left in the wild and 176 in captivity.

Their dramatic decline is mainly due to poaching of both leopards and their prey animals, habitat destruction due to human activity, and inbreeding.

Visitors to the zoo have left online comments criticising the institution over the size of Skodje’s enclosure, which he has shared with female Zane since 2009.

One visitor from Fife said: “Some of the animal enclosures seem very cramped and it was particularly upsetting to witness the constant pacing of the beautiful Amur leopard. Definitely not the sign of a contented animal.”

Another tourist, from Dundee, said she had first noticed the Leopard’s pacing two years ago.

She said: “I visited two years ago when my oldest child was six and my youngest a few months old. When we were there, I was so saddened to see a beautiful leopard pacing a tiny glass enclosure while people stared and took pictures, this seemed to be the case for most of the big cats.

“We recently went back and nothing had changed, the leopard was still pacing the box, tracing its own footsteps, while being stared at by us humans. It was heartbreaking.”

One online reviewer, from Dorset, said: “The Amur Leopard was pacing up and down at the front of his enclosure, which was heartbreaking to see. His enclosure was very small for such a large and active animal.”

Another tourist, from Oxford, described seeing the leopard’s enclosure as “the saddest experience” of her life.


A spokeswoman for animal welfare charity OneKind said: “Unfortunately pacing is stereotypical behaviour for an animal in distress.

“It is incredibly sad to hear about this leopard just walking back and forwards, it is very depressing. It is a wild animal with a minute enclosure.”

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said they had been assured by the zoo that the leopards had enough space and “environmental stimulus to prevent any suffering or distress”.

Mr Flynn added: “Unfortunately, animals kept in captivity can display behaviour such as pacing.”

Mecedes the Polar Pair spent the last two years of her life at Aviemore’s Highland Wildlife Park following a lifetime in captivity at Edinburgh Zoo.

The polar bear was captured in the wild in Canada in 1984 and re-located to the Zoo. Despite her popularity with tourists, animal rights campaigners repeatedly criticised her cramped living conditions and regular pacing.

Darren McGarry, Head of Living Collections at Edinburgh Zoo, said: “The behaviour being displayed by the Amur leopards, including pacing, is normal, natural behaviour that would be seen in the wild as they patrol their territories.

“The welfare of our animals is extremely important to us at Edinburgh Zoo and while we cannot replace their habitat in the wild, we can ensure the animals in our collection have everything they need to lead a safe, healthy and fulfilling life.


“Our keepers are committed to ensuring the animals’ wellbeing and contribute to this by carrying out extensive animal enrichment to ensure they are stimulated.

“There are plans for the Amur leopards to move to another zoo or collection as part of the conservation breeding programme.”

A spokeswoman at the Zoo said they still had not set a date for the Leopard’s move to the Highland Park in Aviemore.

She added: “We are still waiting to hear back about that.”

Despite criticism, Edinburgh Zoo appears to have enjoyed a bumper 2012 on the back of the pandas.

The tourist destination was named second in a list of the Top 20 paid-for visitors attractions in Edinburgh last year, with a footfall of 810,937 visitors – up from 535,573 the year before.

However not everyone is happy. On TripAdvisor one visitor lamented the lack of animals, writing: “we didn’t see very many animals – a lot of cages were empty.”


  1. I went there back in february, ke couldn’t stop pacing. Also, it’s not natural when they patrol the same section for hours a day, without making any attempt at scent marking (urinating, scratch claws on tree bark, rubbing against rocks etc). Sorry but as much as I enjoyed being able to get close to the world’s rarest big cat, I also hated to see them both in such a small enclosure. I hope they get to move to the HWP soon, for their health and sanity…

  2. I go to the zoo frequently and there is no extra charge for the pandas. Never has been. You book a time slot that’s all. So I really don’t know where people are getting this ‘extra charge’ nonsense from.

  3. No animal should be kept in a cage, where do humans get off thinking they have the right to take away another living creatures freedom?
    If as much money that was pumped into zoos (from visators, SELLING animals, trading etc) was put into ACTUAL conservation in the wild then there wouldn’t be so much animal suffering for the simple greed of humans wanting to drag nature to them instead of seeing it where it belongs, in the wild!
    As a famous quote from Born Free Foundation says:
    ‘You learn as much about an animal in captivity, as you do about humans watching a man in his prison cell’ there is nothing natural about an Amur Leopard in Scotland.

    • *visitors.
      I would like to correct several of your points.
      Firstly, zoos do not SELL animals, they trade them with other zoos therefore no money changes hands.
      Secondly, oh yes throw money purely into conservation in the wild where locals will STILL poach animals for illegal trade and STILL kill animals for food because they need the money. Education alongside conservation is required as well as research so we can maintain these animals in the wild, which funnily enough is what all zoos legally have to do.
      It is not greed that makes us keep animals in captivity, it was originally I will not deny that, but now it is a need for knowledge about them. How can we maintain an animal in the wild and educate the people who live alongside it if we don’t understand it.
      Thirdly, animals in captivity do not need the same amount of space as they have in the wild. It’s just not necessary, many cats will roam as far as they can in the wild. Animals often feel safer in a zoo in captivity as they have less stress factors. Also Edinburgh zoo belongs to BIAZA which means a certain level of welfare must be met at all times, if it wasn’t it would be dealt with. Therefore there is nothing to worry about in this situation which is made obvious by the response of SPCA officer and handily ignored by both yourself and the writer of the article.

  4. Took my son to the zoo a few years ago and was so disheartened at the size of the big cat enclosures. We saw the leopard pacing and had to leave, have never been back and will never go back. Surely the money spent on the pandas could of been spent on making the big cats a lot happier????

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