He has no name yet and looks like a cuddly stuffed animal. Yet the snow leopard cub born recently at New York’s Bronx Zoo is already a big star.
Snow leopards are an endangered species. Only about 7,000 survive in the wild. Helping new cubs is big step toward saving the species. Now that the cub is 5 months old, zoo officials consider him grown enough to be placed in a visitor viewing area.
The cub’s father, Leo, is from Pakistan. He arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 2005 after his mother and siblings were killed. Pakistan did not have the facilities to take care of him. He was sent to the Bronx Zoo because it is a leader in caring for snow leopards. His story was soon told in the children’s book Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue.
Now both Leo and his cub are being held up as examples of how well the U.S. and Pakistan can get along. “Leo has served as a symbol of deep friendship and abiding good will between our two countries,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States said after the cub’s birth.
WELCOME TO THE CUB!
The cute cub appears to be adjusting well to his surroundings.
“We let the mother [named Maya] do all the work,” said Lacy Martin, a senior wild-animal keeper at the zoo. “She’s doing an excellent job, so there’s no reason to interfere. [The cub has] gotten much more brave and has a lot of spunk.”
This type of big cat doesn’t normally hang out in the Bronx. Snow leopards typically roam the isolated mountains of Central Asia—in countries like Bhutan and Pakistan and in parts of western China. A snow leopard is at home in cold, rocky areas. Padded foot soles act like natural snow boots for them. And snow leopards can leap 20 to 50 feet while chasing prey like mountain goats and deer.
That’s why the snow leopard display at the Bronx Zoo has a lot of rocks and trees. Zoo officials have made sure that the energetic cats have a lot of places to climb!
SAVING A SPECIES
These big cats are at risk of becoming extinct (having all members of the species die out). Their biggest threats are from hunters, who kill the leopards for their beautiful fur. Habitat loss is also a problem for snow leopards, whose snowy homes become smaller as warmer weather melts the ice and snow on the mountaintops where they live.
The Bronx Zoo has bred more than 70 snow leopards since 1903, making it a worldwide leader in saving the species. It has 10 of the 137 snow leopards in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan. This program was set up to help keep the numbers of snow leopards growing.
“Leo—and his new cub—are living proof of the importance, power, and significance of saving wildlife,” said Peter Zahler of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Bronx Zoo. “Leo has helped bring people together from around the world in an effort to save this iconic animal.”