Creature Feature: Snow Leopards

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Creature Feature: Snow Leopards

 

  
Blank Park Zoo’s Great Cats are what I consider to be the most majestic animals at the Zoo. Their might and power astound, and they captivate you in their very presence. While most people likely consider the lions and tigers when they think of the cats at the Zoo, you cannot help but be drawn toward the grace and beauty of the snow leopards with their agility and soft, black-and-white coat.

Situated next to the tiger exhibit, the Zoo’s snow leopards can be seen year-round. We have two snow leopards – Elsie the female is 9 years old, and Tai Lung the male is 3. (In captivity, snow leopards typically live to about age 17.) You’ll likely find Tai out during the day, while Elsie prefers to be out later in the day for special events, like Night Eyes or Zoo Brew. As part of the species survival plan (SSP), Elsie and Tai will be breeding pair of snow leopards.

 

When I visited the snow leopards this week, Tai had just come outside for the day. He circled the exhibit and posed right in front of me before he leapt to the top of the display boards.

 


Perfect pose.

 

Tai looks at the camera.

 

Tai leapt up to the display board. He loves to climb.

He captivated me.

 

We are still going through the introduction process of the two snow leopards, so one is on exhibit at a time. Elsie was indoors in her holding area – she was being a little shy, but she sure is beautiful.

 


Beautiful Elsie.

She shyly poses for her photo.

Elsie has grown up at Blank Park Zoo, and “her personality has blossomed like any other young lady,” says Bonnie, the Zoo’s Area Supervisor of the Great Cats and Primates. “Elsie can be reserved when she’s around people she doesn't know and is quite playful with her newest keeper, Nathan. She is complex and beautiful.”

 

Tai has only been at the Zoo for a year, but he has gone from a timid guy to quite a majestic snow leopard. Bonnie says he is vocal and demands attention at feeding time. Tai is getting more comfortable and can be seen watching the tiger in the next exhibit from his window in the kiosk.

 

What is the endangered status of the snow leopards? 

 

Snow leopards can be found in 12 countries across Central Asia, with a total population of 4,000-6,500 cats. Snow leopards are extremely endangered. The Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) lists the threats they face in their homeland. Snow leopards in zoos have been terrific ambassadors to gain the attention of the public and their need for support. The Blank Park Zoo donates to and supports the mission of the SLT. 

 

What do snow leopards eat?

 

In the wild, snow leopards eat sheep and goats primarily. At the Zoo, they eat beef, chicken, rabbit and horse.   

 

What enrichment do they enjoy?

 

Snow leopards enjoy many similar enrichment items as domestic cats. They have sturdy cat toys they can push and bat around. Newspaper and boxes are their favorites.* The Zoo also uses jolly eggs and jolly balls in addition to hard plastic jugs, which can be hung by paper towels. Bonnie says that bones and bloodsicles bring out the snow leopards’ wild side.

Do they like snow? 

 

The snow leopards do like it – they are in their element and look quite beautiful in the snow.

 

 
This was taken just after the first major snowfall in December. Love!

 

During the winter, we do not lock the snow leopards outside if it gets below 10 degrees. They are built for the weather right now with the fur on their paws and a tail that can be used like a scarf. (This mental picture in my head is adorable!)

 

In the summer, we give the snow leopards the opportunity to get out of the heat when it gets to be 90 degrees. Obviously, they are much more active in the winter, which is also the breeding season for snow leopards.

 

What are some special snow leopard characteristics?

 

The snow leopards are secretive cats that would prefer to vanish in their surroundings. In the wild, their coat matches the terrain and they camouflage perfectly. They may seem to sit still on exhibit, but they are actually very busy being invisible.

 

Make sure to stop out and visit the snow leopard when you visit the Zoo this winter!

*Interested in donating an enrichment item? Simply drop off at Blank Park Zoo’s admissions desk and let us know it’s for the snow leopards.

 

Jan 31, 2013 9:35 AM |Add a comment
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