Zoo’s the place to spot rare snow leopard cub

Baby snow leopard at California facility is part of global push to protect endangered cats

By Pamela Martineau — Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:01 am PDT Monday, August 21, 2006

The tiny snow leopard ventured out of her “cubbing box” at the Sacramento Zoo on Sunday morning to chase her mother’s tail and climb the man-made rocks in her enclosure.

Ten weeks old and ever the frolicking toddler, Baby Molly likely would be considered precious by most people even if she weren’t on the endangered species list.

The spotted snow leopard kitten — with her black and gray ink-like spots — is enticing some Sacramento-area residents to leave their homes a bit earlier than usual on some days to catch the little tyke on one of her early-morning jaunts.

“I think it’s an experience that’s seldom available — to see the young cub,” said Janda Waraas, 69, of Sacramento, who came to the zoo at its opening time of 9 a.m. Sunday to see the baby snow leopard. Waraas also visited Molly at opening time several times last week, she said.

“I’m just intrigued with the big cats — they’re so much like the domestic cats,” Waraas added, as she peered through her binoculars at the cub.

Baby Molly was born June 7 to mother Shanti, the Sacramento Zoo’s resident snow leopard. Molly and Shanti are among the 3,500 to 7,000 remaining snow leopards in the world, according to biologists.

Molly’s father, Ramir, a snow leopard from the Los Angeles Zoo, was brought to Sacramento to help increase the world’s population of the big felines. Ramir currently lives in a zoo holding area that is separate from Shanti and Molly’s quarters, because male snow leopards don’t stay with females for long after mating.

The comings and goings of all the world’s snow leopards are tracked assiduously by biologists and people committed to protecting the species. Snow leopards in captivity — like many other endangered species in captivity — are monitored by a species survival plan management group that tracks where births of endangered species in captivity have taken place. Such groups bring endangered males and females together for mating.

Once Molly is old enough to leave her mother, she may be moved to another zoo for breeding, according to the species survival plan that has been developed for snow leopards.

“We’re a small cog in the whole international snow leopard thing,” said Leslie Field, who manages the mammals at the Sacramento Zoo.

Like most baby snow leopards, Molly is most active in the early morning and at dusk. Her mother’s long, heavy tail is one of her favorite play toys.

As she gets older, she’s becoming more active, to the delight of zoo visitors.

“We’re getting reports that the baby is out more and more,” Field said of Molly’s schedule away from the small cubbing box in which she has spent much of her time since birth.

Molly weighed about 1 pound at birth and will grow to 70 to 100 pounds by the time she is 1 year old.

In the wild, snow leopards live in the mountainous steep and high forests of Central Asia. They are endangered due to poaching and loss of habitat. The Sacramento Zoo makes monetary donations to the International Snow Leopard Trust, a nonprofit that develops educational materials and conservation programs in the regions where snow leopards live.

More information on snow leopards is available at www.snowleopard.org. Information on the Sacramento Zoo is available at www.saczoo.com.

About the writer:
The Bee’s Pamela Martineau can be reached at (530) 757-7119 or pmartineau@sacbee.com.

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