ONE of the rarest animals on the planet has been born near Winchester.

Marwell Wildlife staff members said two of its amur leopards have been showing some particularly amorous signs recently prompting hopes they might be pregnant.

Now the lucky-in-love leopards - of which there are only 30 left in the wild - have been celebrating the birth of their first-born.

Mum, six-year-old Kaia, and dad, Akin, 13, were paired as part of the European Endangered species breeding Programme in a bid to conserve the big cats and, while the sex of the cub is not yet known, their four-week-old is finally finding its feet.

John Pullen, Marwell Wildlife's curator of mammals said: “The birth of an Amur leopard is fantastic news and we are all very excited by this arrival. Marwell's keepers and veterinary team are monitoring Kaia and her cub and both appear to be in good condition and healthy. We are keeping disruption to a minimum and allowing mum and cub some space to bond in the privacy of their den.

“We are all looking forward to watching this youngster grow, develop and explore its new home at Marwell.”

The last amur leopard cub born at Marwell was in 2007. Kiska was moved to Dortmund Zoo in 2009 and began a family of her own.

Tim Woodfine, Marwell Wildlife's director of conservation, added: “This cub is an important addition to a successful breeding programme which has future plans for Amur leopard re-introductions into the wild. This birth is a great outcome for the hard work which takes place at Marwell.”

Health checks have still to be carried out and once these are done the cub's sex will be announced. It is hoped the zoo's newest addition will be on public view in the main enclosure towards the end of August.