M3 Features

Endangered snow leopards increase in captivity


May 7, 2014

Two snow leopard cubs were born in Darjeeling Zoo on Friday evening. The zoo officials said Zima, the snow leopard that was brought from a Poland-based zoo last year, gave birth to the cubs.

"Zima gave birth to two healthy cubs. Both the cubs have been kept under observation and away from Budh, their father," said Pankaj Kumar, the zoo veterinarian. With the new members, the zoo, whose official name is Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (PNHZP), now has 14 snow leopards. "It is encouraging and satisfying to see that the zoo's captive breeding programme is going on the right path. We now have an impressive 14 snow leopards in our zoo," he added.

In order to ensure that they are not infected by diseases, the new-born cubs along with their mother have been kept in a separate enclosure where they will stay for the next six months. "The mortality rate till two months is high among snow leopards, which is why we will be keeping the cubs in quarantine for six months. For the next one month, the cubs will feed only on their mother's milk," said Kumar. The identification of gender of the two cubs will be made only after two months, it is informed.

On April 19, PNHZP was gifted a female snow leopard named Sici by Jihlava Zoo in Czech Republic. The move was aimed at maintaining a new bloodline for conservation and breeding. "We have exchange programmes with different zoos in the world. We wanted to introduce new bloodline of snow leopard in our zoo for better breeding of the species. We initially looked for it in places like Ladakh but could not get one. Then we turned our attention to foreign countries and finally got one from the Czech Republic," said zoo director AK Jha.

A snow leopard at Darjeeling Zoo

The birth of the two cubs is touted to be a success of the snow leopard breeding programme of the zoo, which started captive breeding of snow leopards in 1983. With that, PNHZP became the first Asian zoo to participate in the Snow Leopard Master Plan conceptualized by Helen Freeman, the president of International Snow Leopard Trust.

The first pair of snow leopards with a different bloodline was flown in to Darjeeling from Zurich Zoo on March 21, 1986. Another pair was brought to PNHZP from an American zoo in 1989 that pair produced two female cubs, making it the first successful breeding of snow leopard in the Darjeeling zoo. The record-keeping of the captive breeding programme and of the animals is done by Darjeeling Zoo as well as by the International Studbook Keeper of the species at Helsinki Zoo.

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