Two 4-month-old Snow Leopard sisters, named Malaya and Daania, made their public debut October 7 at Brookfield Zoo. The highlight of the ‘debut’ was the chance to explore their outdoor habitat with four-year-old mom, Sarani.
The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, happily announced the birth of the two Snow Leopard cubs on June 16. Until now, the girls and their mom have been safe and secure in their behind-the-scenes den.
Mom, Sarani, and her five-year-old mate, Sabu, arrived at Brookfield Zoo in October 2011 from Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Cape May County Park & Zoo in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, respectively. This is the second litter of cubs for the couple. Their pairing was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP).
An SSP is a cooperative population management and conservation program for select species in AZA zoos and aquariums. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. There are currently about 145 Snow Leopards living in 63 institutions in North America. Brookfield Zoo has exhibited Snow Leopards since 1936.
The Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) is classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization.
A leading Snow Leopard conservation organization, the Snow Leopard Trust, estimates population numbers of this elusive cat to be between 4,000 and 6,500 remaining in the wild. They inhabit high, rugged mountainous regions of central Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, China, Mongolia, and Russia. Their numbers are declining due to human influence, such as poaching for medicinal markets and hides, depletion of their prey base, retribution killing following livestock losses, residential and commercial development, and civil unrest.
Snow Leopards' long, thick fur not only keeps them warm in the cold climates of the mountainous regions they inhabit, but also helps camouflage them in their environment, allowing them to sneak up on their prey. A 40-inch-long tail aids Snow Leopards in balancing while navigating rocky terrain, and they wrap it around them to keep warm at night. Their large paws are covered with a cushion of hair that increases surface area and acts like insulating snow shoes.
Snow Leopards make sounds like other big cats, but they cannot roar. Instead, they make a sound called a “chuff.” They are solitary animals, although a male and female Snow Leopard may be seen during mating season or a female with her young cubs before they venture out on their own at about 2 years of age.
The species has a gestation period of 90 to 100 days. Offspring are fully weaned at about ten weeks of age but will remain with their mother until they become independent at around 18-22 months.