21 March 2024

Snow leopards arrive at Chester Zoo for first time in 93-year history

21 March 2024

Two “incredibly playful” snow leopards have arrived at a zoo in Cheshire for the first time in a “huge milestone” in the conservation charity’s 93-year history.

Chester Zoo is now home to male leopard Yashin and female Nubra, who are just over 18 months old and arrived from zoos in Europe after being carefully matched as part of an important breeding programme.

Conservationists said the pair have “really hit it off” and are hopeful they will go on to have cubs.

The snow leopards arrived ahead of the opening of a new habitat at the zoo, containing more than 600 tonnes of scree and rocks to recreate the terrain of the Himalayan mountains where they live in the wild.

The immersive habitat features two large outdoor areas with rocky outcrops, shallow cave retreats, ledges and steep rugged cliffs to recreate the experience of the wild.

Mike Jordan, director of animals and plants at the zoo, said: “The arrival of snow leopards is a huge milestone in our zoo’s long history and signifies our commitment to protecting another of the world’s most threatened big cat species.

“Yashin and Nubra are both just over 18 months old, so they’re incredibly playful, inquisitive and full of energy.

“They’re also both now at the age where they’d naturally start to leave their mother and become independent, which is why they’ve been paired up here at Chester Zoo as part of a European conservation breeding programme, which is working to safeguard the species from becoming extinct.

“Now that they’ve had some time to settle in and explore their new home here in Chester, the pair appear to have really hit it off and, in time, we’re hopeful that they’ll go on to have cubs together.”

It is first time in the conservation charity’s long history that its experts have cared for the highly threatened species which is vulnerable to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Snow leopards are elusive animals having adapted to high-altitude living in the Himalayas and Central Asia.

Sightings have become so rare that they have been nicknamed the “ghost of the mountains” by communities that live alongside them.

In the wild, they face a number of threats including climate change, which is eroding the landscape they thrive in, habitat loss, poaching and retaliatory killings following cases of human-wildlife conflict.

Mr Jordan said: “This incredible new habitat not only offers visitors spectacular viewing opportunities and a fascinating glimpse into the harsh, yet beautiful world that snow leopards inhabit.

“It’ll also help conservationists here to learn more about the lives of these iconic cats, helping to further support global conservation efforts for the species.”

The new snow leopard habitat at Chester Zoo will open to the public from March 25.

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