Project Snow Leopard

THE SNOW LEOPARD : Panthera uncia
           The Snow Leopard is a phantom cat. No one has been able to make more than a fleeting observation of it in the wild, and yet it has captured the imagination of millions. This is a beautiful animal with thick long hair and dense, woolly under fur. In common with other creatures with nature's special endowment of beauty. Snow leopards are persistently sought after and hunted for their valuable fur. Its soft colouring and luxuriant coat is scarcely rivaled.
Size : Somewhat smaller than a panther with a longer tail. Head and body, 3 ft 3 in. - 3 ft 8 in. ( 100 - 110 cm.); tail, 3ft. (90 cm). The snow leopard is about the same size as a leopard.
Distinctive Features : The snow leopard is distinctive in the shortness of its muzzle, its high forehead, and vertical chin. The ground colour of its coat is soft grey, paling to pure white on the underside. The grey is sometimes tinged with buff. The spots are unbroken and distinct on the head, nape and lower parts of the limbs. On the body they break up into larger, paler rosettes. The rosettes are less pronounced in the luxuriant winter coat. Its body makings are more like those typically found in small cats rather than in big cats. The head does not have as many spots as the leopard's, and spots are arranged in distinct rows. The large rump spots look like those found in young pumas, but on the flanks the spots always have a light central area. It has a round head, broad paws, and a long round tail with hair that is equally long all around the tail. In winter the otherwise light, yellow grey to cream coloured hair become whiter, while it has additional grey hues in summer. The black grey circular spots are larger than those of the leopards.
Distribution : Himalayan chain from Kashmir to Sikkim, northwards their territory extends into Tibet, Central Asia and the Altais. Its home is the higher altitudes of the Himalayas, in that region of stupendous rock and cliff above the tree line some 12,000 - 13,000 ft. ( 3660 - 3985 m. ) above sea level.

Habitat : Snow leopard inhabit rhododendron forests and the almost plant less high mountain fields. The den is built beneath rocks and the rock crevices. Most Zoo kept Snow leopards are active at night, but this may be because the coolness of night is more like the conditions to which they are accustomed. In the wild, Snow leopards are also seen during the day. The Snow leopards, with its thick coat, is beautifully adapted to its habitat, the coat protecting it from both the cold and he extreme summer heat. The paws have hair cushions, preventing the animal from sinking into the snow since their hair increases the surface area of the paws and distributes the animal weight over large area. The hair cushions also protect the soles from the snow, rough ground, cold and rocks heated by the sun in mid summer.
Habits : The Snow leopard's diet includes ibex, wild sheep, tahr, piping hare, mice and birds. In winter, when the Snow leopard moves into lower altitudes, it preys on deer, wild boar, gazelle and hare. It stalks its prey, creeping up and then grabbing it in a sudden spring. The Snow leopard is a superb long jumper, executing jumps from 6 to 15 m through air. They often rest on cliffs, in trees, or on other elevated spots, which are not ascended but simply reached by jumping up. Unlike the leopard, Snow leopards begin eating their prey from the posterior portion of the body. First the belly is opened and the viscera is eaten; then the Snow leopard begins on the muscles from the rump area, moving towards the front of the prey. Since the Central Asian highlands are not densely populated by larger animals, Snow leopards in that region require fairly large territories in order to procure enough food. The relatively low food supply does not permit them to form social hunting groups; there would not be enough food around to feed a Snow leopard's pack. The only time that hunting is not solitary is usually when a male and female hunt together during the mating season, or when a female hunts with her young. Snow leopards stay within their territories and do not migrate extensively.
Reproductive Behaviour : The breeding season occurs towards the end of winter. Females are in heat for five to seven days, and if a female does not mate in that time she will again be in heat after fifty four to seventy days. The gestation period is 98 - 103 days, and two to five young (weighing 300 - 700 gm.) are born in a well concealed den sometime between April and June. The mother lines the den with her own fur. Initially the spots on the newborn young are completely black, lacking the lighter central area. The young open their eyes after seven to nine days. They begin crawling after ten days and can run well when they are two months old. At that age they can lick up liquids and feed on solids. The young begin following their mother on hunting forays in July or August, and they remain with her through winter. So far it is not known whether females typically bear young every year or every other year.
Present Status : Snow leopards have suffered tremendously at the hand of man, because the species has been 'blessed' with the strikingly beautiful fur, which is soft and thick. The species has become extremely rare in many parts of its native habitat. In India, where Snow leopards occur on the southern slopes of the Himalaya, the species has been under full protection since 1952. International protective measures will have to be stiffened if the species is to be preserved as part of the World's fauna. Zoo breeding alone cannot provide the solution, until recently Snow leopards bred poorly in Zoos. Some Zoos, particularly Kauna's Helsinki's, Darjeeling's and Chicago's Lincoln Park, now have good success at Snow leopard reproduction, but conservation in the wild must be improved.
Longevity : The longevity record for a Snow leopard in captivity is over fifteen years.
          The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling is dedicated to conservation of Wildlife. It started work on captive breeding project of this rare species in the year 1983. It was selected as an ideal site for this captive breeding project. Experts Dr. Ingo Rieger and D. Walzthoeny inspected the site in July 1983 and gave their approval. The site selected for off display conservation breeding center of Snow leopard is the North - Western corner of the Jawahar Parbat (Birch Hill) at a latitude of 27º and longitude 88ºE. Altitude is 6900 ft. a little above the Lebong Cart Road within the compound wall of the Zoological Park, opposite St. Joseph's College, Darjeeling.
          This was the first instance of an Asian Zoo participating in the Snow leopard Master plan which was conceptualized by Mrs. Helen Freeman, President of the International Snow leopard Trust and was also species coordinator of the "Species Survival Plan" for Snow leopards.
          A pair of unrelated Snow leopard was flown to Darjeeling Zoo from Zurich Zoo via London and New Delhi on 21st March 1986. These beautiful specimens were "Kashi", the female and "Vishna" the male. The female was born on 26th August 1983 in the Zurich Zoo. The male was born on 23rd June 1978 in Helsinki Zoo.
          Another pair (Hank and Persia) came to Darjeeling Zoo from U. S. Zoo on 16th January 1989. The male "Hank" was born at Littlerock on June 6th, 1985 and female "Persia" at San Antonio on April 23rd 1980. The pair gave birth to two female cubs on May 20th, 1989. This was the first successful breeding of Snow Leopards in Darjeeling Zoo.
          "Quizil" (male, d.o.b. - May 23, 1990, Zurich), "Quila" (female, d.o.b. - May 23 1990, Zurich) and "Quetta" (female, d.o.b. - May 23, 1990, Zurich) were later added to the collection of the Zoological Park on January 28, 1992 to induce new blood and continue planned breeding programme at Darjeeling Zoo.
          Another male " Tyson" - d.o.b. - August 8, 1995 from Hunbstand arrived at Darjeeling on January 27, 2000 for the same purpose.
          Two wild / rescued females "Neeta and Meeta" from Leh - Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir were also air lifted to Darjeeling by Charted Plane of Ministry of Defence on May 17, 2000, again to continue with the breeding project. "Meeta" unfortunately died within few days of its arrival.
          In the last twenty years there are in total 46 births of Snow leopards in captivity in the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling.
         The Snow leopard Breeding Project at Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling is one of the most successful and only breeding programme of the species in South East Asia.
          All the record keeping of programme and animals is not only done in Darjeeling Zoo, but is also recorded with the International Stud Book Keeper of the species at Helsinki.
         Steady research and studies are also being undertaken so that this very special and sensitive project can become a model for other such Conservation Breeding Project in suitable locales.
          Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in 2003 had 18 Snow leopards (9 males and 9 females), one of the largest captive population, in a single zoo, in the World and a record of the the zoos. As on May, 2006, there were 12 Snow leopards (6 males and 6 females.)
          Next step taken was to have at least 4 -5 stable captive populations of Snow leopards at different high altitude zoos in the country, before any release / stocking in the wild can be contemplated. In 2004, a pair each of Snow leopards was sent from Darjeeling Zoo to Gangtok, Nainital and Shimla Zoos to start subsidiary Snow leopard breeding centers in these Himalayan Zoos.
          The Project received inspiration from a host of officials, non officials, and Institutions and Staff of the P.N.H. Z. Park, Darjeeling.

Snow Leopard Stud Book : Restricted to Location : DARJEELING/

Date 01/01/2008 <= date

Stud # Sex Birth Date Sire Dam Location Date Local ID Name Breeder # Transponder
1850 M 8 August 1995 1723 1285 HUNBSTRND
8 August 1995
27 January 2000
1897 M 23 October 1995 1059 1474 DARJEELING 23 October 1995 15 KARAN DARJ 15 981098102057256
1972 M 31 October 1995 1472 1797 DARJEELING
31 October 1995
10 March 2005
3 April 2007
19 *KUSH DARJ 19 981098102048903
2046 M 22 March 1998 1059 1473 DARJEELING 22 March 1998 24 KARISH DARJ 24 981098102056345
2228 F .. 1997 Wild Wild LEH
17 May 2000
27 NEETA DARJ 27 981098102057442
2399 F 29 March 2002 1897 2228 DARJEELING 29 March 2002 40 TISTA DARJ 40 00-0611-4DBI
2401 M 19 June 2002 1850 1797 DARJEELING 19 June 2002 37 BUDHA DARJ 37 00-0610-FA9B
2405 M 8 July 2002 1850 1899 DARJEELING 08 July 2002 36 PRABHAT DARJ 36 00-0618-24E0
2538 F 11 March 2004 1897 2228 DARJEELING 11 March 2004 43 RITHU DARJ 43 981098102056547
2540 F 25 May 2004 1850 1797 DARJEELING 25 May 2004 45 YASMIN DARJ 45 00-00F6-8A38
2541 F 25 May 2004 1850 1797 DARJEELING 25 May 2004 44 MALIKA DARJ 44 00-00F8-AC18

* Kush died on 5th April 2009.

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