SEATTLE ‒ A display of beautiful spots appeared on May 2 at Woodland Park Zoo when triplet snow leopards were born to 7-year-old mother Helen. The cubs represent the second litter for Helen and 6-year-old father Tom.
As part of the exemplary animal care and health program for the thousand-plus animals at the zoo, veterinarians performed a neonatal examination today on the cubs, which were confirmed as two females and a male.
The mom and cubs are off public exhibit in a maternal den to allow bonding and proper nursing. The zoo anticipates putting the cubs on public exhibit in mid-July.
“Helen was an excellent mother to the pair of cubs she gave birth to in 2009 and successfully raised. We’re very pleased to see that she’s nurturing the three cubs very well and that they appear to be progressing normally. They appear to be healthy, their eyes are just now opening and their bellies were full of milk, indicating that they are nursing,” said zoo Director of Animal Health Dr. Darin Collins. The cubs currently weigh between 2.1 and 2.4 pounds.
Snow leopards are an endangered species. Cubs are born helpless, with their eyes closed, and rely for several weeks on their mothers for nutrition. To minimize disturbance, staff have minimal physical contact with the new family and are monitoring mother and cubs via a web cam. Since snow leopards are solitary animals in the wild, the father has been separated and is on public exhibit in the snow leopard exhibit adjacent to Australasia.
The snow leopard is a moderately large cat native to the high mountain ranges of Central Asia and Russia, including in Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan. Snow leopard scientists estimate as few as 3,500 remain in the wild.
Woodland Park Zoo has a long history of caring for snow leopards and conserving them in the wild, since the zoo’s first snow leopards arrived in 1972 from the USSR. Under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP), 34 cubs have born at the zoo and have helped diversify the genetic pool of the managed population. “This is a significant birth for snow leopards in zoos in North America and around the world, and marks the first recorded birth this year for the SSP. By virtue of their majestic beauty, they are conservation ambassadors for their species in the wild. These cubs in the future will become valuable in inspiring people to learn more about how to save this endangered cat that is struggling to survive in its range countries,” said Dr. Jennifer Pramuk, a curator at Woodland Park Zoo.
As part of Woodland Park Zoo’s partnership with 36 field conservation projects around the world, the zoo partners with the Snow Leopard Trust. The Trust was created in 1981 by the late Woodland Park Zoo staff member Helen Freeman, the namesake of the mother of the newborn cubs. Through innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the SLT is saving these endangered cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia. Visit http://www.snowleopard.org/ for information about the SLT.
Photos of the neonatal exam can be found on the zoo’s blog at: http://woodlandparkzblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/baby-baby-baby.html. As more footage and images are made available, snow leopard fans can keep tabs on the cubs by checking out the zoo’s blog and YouTube.
Woodland Park Zoo participates in 72 Species Survival Plans sponsored by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), including the SSP for snow leopards. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, conservation and genetics, AZA-accredited institutions manage each species as one population in North America to maximize genetic diversity, with the goal of ensuring the long-term survival of the population and the health of individual animals. SSPs also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.
Woodland Park Zoo’s summer hours through September 30: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily. Zoo admission through September 30: Adult (13-64) id="mce_marker"7.75; Child (3-12) id="mce_marker"1.50 Free for children 2 and under year round. Active and retired U.S. military and their families, seniors and people with physical disabilities receive a discount and zoo members receive free zoo admission year round.
For a Rainy Day Discount coupon, go to www.zoo.org/rainyday and check if it has been posted for the day. Discount coupons, when offered, are good for 50% off on regular admission to the zoo, limit four admissions per coupon. Coupons, if posted online, will appear no later than 4:00 p.m. the day before the coupon is valid. Discounts cannot be combined with other discounts or offers, and are good only for the day indicated on the coupon. If there isn’t a coupon, be sure to check back on another day.
For more information or to become a zoo member, visit www.zoo.org. Or call 206.548.2500 or 548.2599 (TTY).