Two adorable snow leopard cubs made their debut at the Cape May County Park and Zoo Tuesday, July 18.
The female cubs were born to parents Tysa, a 4-year-old female, and Bataar, a 9-year-old male, and mark the zoo’s first litter of snow leopards since 2013.
With only 12 snow leopards born in North American zoos in 2015, this pair of cubs is particularly groundbreaking for animal conservation efforts.
“The snow leopard is on the endangered species list, and the population of the native snow leopard has nearly been wiped out due to poaching and habitat encroachment,” Cape May County Freeholder E. Marie Hayes of Ocean City
said at the zoo Tuesday during a ceremony preceding the debut. “While snow leopards, especially the cubs, are interesting to watch, they serve to help educate the public. The research provided by zoos such as ours and refuges serves to aid in the successful conservation of these beautiful animals.”
Just last month, the zoo lost a big, popular furry member of their family, and Hayes says she is grateful to have another “successful breeding.”
“We lost our Siberian tiger, Rocky, and that was very sad, but now the snow leopards are here and everybody is doing fine,” Hayes said.
Veterinarian Herbert “Bert” Paluch is Cape May County Zoo’s director and has been with the organization for 26 years. While the cubs were born in the spring – May 19, to be exact – he began introducing the pair to their new habitat earlier this week.
“Actually, they’ve been out for a couple of days,” Paluch said. “At first when they’re born, they have no ears, their eyes are closed. … Initially, they just crawl along on their belly, and they don’t move much, so we wanted to make sure mom was comfortable with them being out here. I think it was a very successful introduction of the snow leopard cubs to the public.”
Associate veterinarian Dr. Alex Ernst, 38, said the mother’s care of her cubs can be a hit or miss in the animal kingdom, but that Tysa has been an affectionate mother.
“We’re very excited. This is a first litter for the pair, and any time you have a new pair, and especially a first-time mom, you’re a little bit nervous about how that is going to go,” Ernst said. “When they were born, we obviously did a physical exam on them. We wanted to make sure that they were nursing because that was one of our big concerns for a first-time mom. … After we checked all that out, we sort of let mom do the rest. Aside from routine vaccinations, mom has done all the work.”
Zookeeper Bryan Sincavage, 31, says the cubs have started to develop their own personalities.
“When they first stepped out, they were rolling around in the grass, jumping on mom, and just having a good, old time in the exhibit,” Sincavage said. “As they’ve grown up, I’ve seen two different personalities. One’s more curious, the other one is a little more timid, but once they’re together, they’re as playful as they can be.”
The cubs have yet to be named. At the zoo’s entrance, there are three names – Zara, Samaira and Ahana – for the public to choose from by donating money and placing it in the respective containers. The two highest-grossing bins will be the names for the new cubs.
“I’m proud of the people we have in this park and zoo. It’s because of them we have been elevated to No. 5 in the country, No. 13 in the world,” Hayes said. “With the breeding of the snow leopards in facilities such as our zoo, there is reason to believe that the snow leopard numbers can rebound.”
*All photos were my own taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T1i