The Woodland Park Zoo invites the public to celebrate one of the world’s most endangered and elusive wild animals at its fourth annual Snow Leopard Day. Hosted by the zoo and its conservation partner, the Snow Leopard Trust, this full day of activities highlights the fascinating adaptations of the snow leopard and important conservation efforts to protect these creatures in the wild.
There are several major factors impacting this animal’s status in the wild. “Poaching has long been an issue since the snow leopard’s uniquely patterned, extremely warm fur has been highly valued by humans,” explains zoo spokesperson, Rebecca Whitham. “Human-animal conflict plays a role, too, as humans have been known to kill snow leopards out of fear to protect their livestock. And habitat issues like fragmentation and loss of prey also play critical roles in the snow leopard’s endangered status.”
These intriguing animals normally live throughout the mountains of Central Asia, spread across twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. According to Whitham, little is known about the animal’s day-to-day behavior, due to its shy nature and ability to remain hidden within its natural habitat.
The Snow Leopard Trust, which was founded in 1981 by a former Woodland Park Zoo employee, Helen Freeman, is doing research in the field on these creatures in order to better understand their habits. The organization is also helping to educate people about the threats these magnificent cats face, as well as provide assistance to the communities living in snow leopard range countries.
Currently, the zoo is home to five snow leopards, including cubs Gobi and Batu, born May 25th, 2009. “Snow leopards are one of the lesser known big cats, so for many zoo visitors, encountering this animal is a new and memorable experience,” comments Whitham. “Gobi and Batu, our one year-old cubs, are more active and adventurous than the adult snow leopards in our exhibit and a lot of visitors have enjoyed watching the cubs grow and mature since they debuted at last year’s Snow Leopard Day.” She adds, “The cubs are playful and adventurous, and first-time mother Helen is amazingly caring and patient with them.” Whitham further explains that normally these creatures are solitary, with the exception when mothers are raising their young.
At the zoo, the cats take turns rotating between the exhibit space and the behind the scenes, off-exhibit areas. “They’re very interested in exploring scents,” she says, “so we focus on providing varied smells in the exhibit as enrichment to the animals, encouraging them to explore their space.” The motivation behind holding Snow Leopard Day at Woodland Park Zoo is to provide an opportunity for visitors to learn more about what is happening to this species in the wild and how they can help the plight of these endangered creatures.
The event will feature keeper talks, conservation talks by Snow Leopard Trust representatives, snow leopard-inspired crafts for kids, special themed programs for youngsters in Zoomazium, live entertainment, face painting, conservation commerce and more. “One of the easiest ways to help conservation efforts is to consider purchasing conservation commerce at the zoo,” comments Whitham. “These are items made by artisans in the range countries of the snow leopards. Conservation commerce provides alternative income to families that might otherwise turn to poaching and helps people living in poverty to increase their standard of living while protecting their local ecosystems.”
What: Snow Leopard Day
When: Saturday, August 14th, 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: Woodland Park Zoo
Cost: The event is free with zoo admission or membership
For more information, visit www.zoo.org or call 548-2500.