A pair of endangered snow leopards were born at the Metro Richmond Zoo in Virginia.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the male and female snow leopard cubs were born on May 24 after a three-month gestation period. According to the report, the cubs were the first of the species to be born at the Chesterfield facility.
Excited to announce our first litter of Snow Leopard cubs! https://t.co/4gThj77WpZ
— Metro Richmond Zoo (@metrorhmdzoo) June 21, 2016
The snow leopard cubs’ parents are Elsa, 2, and Nirtro, 3. The zoo reveals that this is Elsa’s first litter. As seen in the video below, her maternal instincts are strong despite being raised in captivity. She gives the camera an imposing glare as her babies nuzzle close by and nurse.
The endangered snow leopard cubs and their mother are being kept in a private den until enough strength and motor skills are gained by the young to venture outside. Zoo staff says once the cubs are agile enough to follow their mom outside, they’ll be seen by visitors.
“The cubs are currently off exhibit in their private den with mom while they are developing their initial motor skills and strength,” zoo director Jim Andelin told WTVR 6. “Our plan is to let the cubs out on exhibit once they are strong enough to follow mom outside. In the wild, snow leopard cubs don’t venture out of their den until they are two to four months old.”
Neither of the cubs born at the Richmond Zoo have been named.
Snow leopards are native to the mountainous ranges of central and southern Asia. There are only an estimated 3,000 and 6,000 of the animals left in the world.
“Snow Leopards are considered an endangered species, with only an estimated 3,000-6,000 snow leopards left in the world,” Andelin said. “Snow Leopards are nicknamed the ‘ghosts of the mountains’ by natives [of Central and South Asia] because of their elusiveness, this could also be due in large part to the fact that they’re crepuscular animals, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk.”
In other news related to the recent births of snow leopard cubs, three arrived at the Akron Zoo in Ohio on March 5. Tuscon News Now reported that the trio chose their own names from thousands of submissions — Asha, Altai, and Layan. The triplets made their public debut in early June.
Akron Zoo’s snow leopard cubs made their adorable debut: https://t.co/39WzC0dTki
— Andy Harris (@aharrisBURB) June 21, 2016
According to Snow Leopard Conservancy, there are three reasons for snow leopards being endangered. The first one is illegal hunting. The species have bone, skin, and organs that are known to be valuable in traditional Asian medicine. People who live near snow leopards make less than $300 a year, and bringing in a dead cat can yield someone $200. A middleman can earn as much as $10,000.
A second reason for the snow leopard’s suffering populations is humans pushing their livestock into habitat where goats and sheep depend on the mountainous grasslands. These animals are a snow leopard’s food source, and overgrazing threatens the sustainability of its prey. In this instance, a snow leopard may prey on domestic animals, which cause farmers to shoot and kill the leopards.
The Daily Mail recently reported that a Russian snow leopard and her two cubs that hadn’t been seen in two years was found dead after getting trapped in a snare believed to be set by illegal poachers who put the traps out for musk deer.
The mother leopard and her cubs were last seen at the remote Altai Nature Reserve in 2014.
Remains of the animals showed that the cubs died while their mother, Vita, tried to free them. She eventually ate their bodies and became trapped in the snare herself before dying.
[Image via Shutterstock]