BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 21st May '14

ENDANGERED CATS BREEDING PROGRAMME OPENS GATES IN JULY

This July, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF) will open its gates (not its cages), allowing visitors to see the lions, leopards, tigers and cheetahs in the big cat sanctuary – as well as the conservation work that’s helping to protect them.

The sanctuary in Smarden, Kent, breeds endangered cats in captivity. The aim is to breed animals that fall within the European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP) and, eventually, re-introduce them into their natural habitats. There are over 50 big cats in the sanctuary and the site itself is being developed into a haven for native UK wildlife.

The WHF participates in the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme (EEP) for big cats from all over the globe, including Amur leopards – the rarest cat on our planet, with only around 30 left in the wild and 100 left in captivity.

Lions and tigers and… Leopards

Critically endangered Sumatran tigers, of which there are fewer than 200 left in the wild, are also offered some protection by the breeding programme, as well as endangered snow leopards, ‘vulnerable’ white lions and ‘near-threatened’ jaguars and Pallas cats.

Visitors will be able to walk around the 38-acre site and learn about all the cats, including the threats to their population and what’s causing them. Tigers, lions and large carnivores are all in open-topped enclosures while the smaller climbing cats, such as leopards and jaguars, live in roofed enclosures.

There are 18 breeding enclosures in total but – in case the cats themselves aren’t enough for you – there will also be face painting, a barbecue, arts and crafts stalls and a bouncy castle to keep you entertained until the lions wake up (they can be inactive for around 21 hours per day).

The open days will be held over four days, from Thursday 17 July to Sunday 20 July, with doors open from 11am to 5.30pm. Tickets cost £10 (under-fives go free) and must be pre-booked online through the WHF website.