The Tulsa Zoo welcomed little Niko, an endangered Snow Leopard cub, born on May 10 to mother Sherab and father, Rajan. Niko is being hand-reared behind-the-scenes. At 7 weeks of age, he is thriving, and currently weighs more than 6 lbs (2.72kg). Mother Sherab is doing well and is back on exhibit.
Niko’s birth was in conjunction with the Snow Leopard SSP®, or the Species Survival Plan, which manages species in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoos across the nation. Ranging in mountainous areas of Central Asia from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan, and Russia to northern India and China, there are only 4,000-6,500 Snow Leopards left in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss.
While Niko is doing well, his two siblings did not survive the turbulent first weeks. One cub died during the birthing process and the other died just 9 days later due to bacterial sepsis in its blood. Sherab, an experienced mom, provided excellent care for the cubs in the first 24 hours. However, it soon became apparent that due to complications from the birth, Sherab would need to be moved to the zoo’s veterinary hospital and allow the Tulsa Zoo’s expert staff to hand-raise the Endangered cubs.
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“The decision to hand raise a wild animal is not taken lightly and having the offspring raised by their own kind is always preferred, but Sherab needed to focus her energy on healing and recovery,” said Dr. Kay Backues, Tulsa Zoo Senior Staff Veterinarian.
The zoo is home to a team of experts who are proficient in hand-rearing when it is deemed to be in the best interest for the health of the animal. The two cubs were placed in human care, but one of them ultimately succumbed to a sudden unforeseen illness.
The Tulsa Zoo will soon break ground on a new Snow Leopard exhibit. They have housed Snow Leopards since the 1980s and has been successfully reproducing the species since the early 1990s as well as supporting conservation efforts in the wild.