Iranians Vying to Name Israeli Safari’s New Persian Leopard

Ramat Gan Safari Park finally gets photo of its shy new acquisition – a Persian leopard who arrived in Israel from Athens a month ago and hid until this week

Cyrus? Rustam? Little Satan? Iranians have been sending in their suggested names for the Persian leopard now at Ramat Gan Safari Park.
Shai Ben Naphtali

It is a happy day for Ramat Gan Safari Park, which finally managed to see its latest acquisition – a young male Persian leopard – a month after his arrival.

Once the animal finally ventured out of hiding, the zoo was able to take his picture and publicize his arrival – which led to a flood of suggestions from Iranians as to the cat’s future name.

How did that happen? To find an appropriate name for their new puddy-tat, the zoo tapped Dr. Thamar Eilam Gindin, linguist and scholar of ancient Persia and modern Iran, for help. She in turn posted the quest on Facebook and Twitter, being frank about where both she and the cat are located.

“Her posts went viral,” says zoo spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz, and suggestions started to flow from all over Iran. (There were other suggestions too, Horowitz admits, but most of the suggestions were names.)

Among the Iranians’ proposed names for the young male are Cyrus (Kurus in Persian; Koresh in Hebrew), founder of the great first Persian empire, the Achaemenid; Rustam (alternatively Rostam), a mighty mythological warrior from Iranian history; Omid, which means hope; @&*(&$#;, and many more.

“Thanks to the Iranian people, we now have a list of Persian names with significant meanings. Now we are tapping the Israeli public by social media to help us choose the best name from the list,” says Horowitz.

SPOTTED! The Persian leopard finally seen at Ramat Gan Safari Park, October 2018.
Shai Ben Naphtali

No room to swing a cat

As befits a solitary cat, Koresh, Spotty McSpotface or whatever he gets named was painfully shy – only coming out of hiding at night, says Horowitz. This week, though, a patient intern sat perfectly still for a couple of hours by his enclosure and managed to get some snapshots of the young feline, who hails from the Attica Zoological Park in Athens, Greece.

The 15-month-old leopard is particularly fond of chicken, horse meat and rabbits, as leopards are, Horowitz says.

The safari park, formally called Ramat Gan Zoological Center, already has one Persian leopard. She is an ancient female named Vashti, who has long passed 16. (Zoologists believe the natural life span of Persian leopards is around 8 to 12 years, though they may survive longer in captivity.)

Vashti did have a mate, Peleh, but he died. They never did reproduce, Horowitz tells Haaretz, saying they don’t know why. Some couples just don’t, especially in captivity.

While the young male may join Vashti in her enclosure after he settles down, the park is not expecting kittens from the two because of her advanced age.

The Persian leopard, henceforth known as Spotty McSpottyface until the public votes on a more Iranian name.
Shai Ben Naphtali

Given that leopards are solitary in nature, and Vashti and New Kid on the Block almost certainly can’t procreate, why put them together at all? Why not leave her in splendid solitude and get him a young leopardess for the sake of the species?

Mainly because they don’t have room, Horowitz explains.

They can feasibly house a male and female leopard together in zoo conditions; hence the possibility of moving him in with Vashti once he settles down (and if the two cats agree).

But if they brought a third female, they would need more enclosures: One for Vashti; one for him; and one for the lady leopard if she had cubs. Trapped with the kids in a cage, the male might kill the litter, Horowitz says.

All this said, when Vashti passes on from this vale of tears, the safari park does hope to bring a female to mate with the youngster. Horowitz is adamant that they’re not going to do a thing until that sad day, and they certainly aren’t going to stress their doddering leopard by bringing in a fresh-faced young competitor.

“Each animal gets its own time and lives in dignity. We wish her a long life and when she passes on, we will bring him a mate,” she says.

And hopefully they can breed. Leopards, in all variants, are among the most endangered of the great cats. Israel used to have Anatolian leopards (Panthera pardus tulliana), but they went extinct decades ago, after the last isolated individuals living in the Dead Sea area died.

“The safari and Tehran Zoo are among the 44 zoos, with about 100 leopards, participating in a Persian leopard-breeding program,” she adds.

Iran is investing tremendous effort in studying the cat and has plans to reintroduce it to nature, Horowitz notes, adding that the population has to reach at least 50 to even begin to be viable.

Two years ago, she says, three Persian leopards were released into the wild – in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, of all places. “They were the first ever zoo-born leopards to be reintroduced to the wild,” says Horowitz. The cats were released in a nature reserve by the city and are being tracked through GPS collars.

Nice. And what about Israel? Wouldn’t it be nice to reintroduce them here as well? “Nobody is talking about returning leopards to nature in Israel – there’s nowhere to put them,” says Horowitz.