The Los Angeles Zoo officials proudly showed off a pair of endangered snow leopard cubs to the public for the first time on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
The male and female cubs, born on May 12 and 13 to three-year-old mother Georgina and five-year-old father Fred, are the first offspring for the adult snow leopards who were paired together in July 2015 as a part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP).
The siblings spent several months behind the scenes bonding with their mother and getting to know the animal care staff. At four months old, the cubs have gained enough strength and coordination to navigate their outdoor habitat and make their public debut.
“We’re so excited to welcome these cubs,” said Stephanie Zielinski, animal keeper at the zoo. “There is less known about these beautiful cats than most of the other large cat species due to the extreme habitat snow leopards have evolved to live in the wild. This is why it’s such an honor to be able to educate the public and give them the opportunity to observe this elusive species here in Los Angeles.”
The Zoo’s animal care staff began working with the cubs early on, separating the mom for short amounts of time to allow her rest and to help her grow accustomed to animal care staff being around her young. These interactions with the cubs helped animal care staff conduct regular exams, give vaccinations, and eventually lead to an easier transition when introducing the cubs to the outdoor habitat.
Guests of the Zoo can finally visit the cubs, currently weighing in at around 22 pounds each, and see firsthand how energetic and playful they are. The cubs and their mother will transition on and off exhibit various times throughout the day, allowing outdoor time for the adult male snow leopard, Fred.
Snow leopards in the wild are found in unforgiving environments in the cold, high mountains of Central Asia throughout 12 countries. The habitats range from alpine meadows to treeless, rocky mountains. Due to the high altitudes of its habitat, the animal has evolved to have a large nasal cavity to breathe the thin air and can retain oxygen well.
The cats have a thick fur, which allows them to keep warm, and a long tail they can wrap around themselves for added warmth and protection for their ears and face. Their paws have hair cushions that act as snowshoes and also provide protection from sharp rocks. Smoky gray and blurred black markings on the cat’s pale gray or cream-colored coat provide them with handy camouflage in the mountains.
Snow leopards can tolerate extreme temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit down to 40 degrees below zero.
While snow leopards have perfectly adapted to the cold, barren landscape of their high-altitude home, human threats have created an uncertain future for the cats. Habitat destruction, prey base depletion, illegal trade, poaching, and conflict with the local people have led to a significant decline with only an estimated population of between 2,000 to 7,000 snow leopards left in the wild.