History of Snow Leopards in Zoos
History of Snow Leopards in Zoos throughout the world.
In my research I found that the London Zoo was probably the first official zoo to have a snow leopard when it got one from Bhutan in 1891. By the early 1900’s New York, Berlin and Moscow also had snow leopards.
This photo from the Wildlife Conservation Society shows a snow leopard at Bronx Zoo in 1906. At this time all these animals would have been captured from the wild. We can imagine the lives of these animals would have been quite sad, not only the standard of their environment, that is being kept cages but also the lack of knowledge about how to look after them and feed them.
Today the quality of life for snow leopards in zoos has improved greatly. There’s been a lot of work to understand snow leopard behavior. Medical treatment has also improved. And nowadays enclosures are bigger and better designed and have elements from wild snow leopard habitats. The Zurich Zoo recently built a new state of the art snow leopard zoo habitat.
In 1960 there were 22 captive snow leopards in Europe and North America but by 1976 the population had increased to 167, many of them wild caught animals. In the late 1970′s snow leopard breeding in zoos was more common but only about 50% of cubs survived to the age of six months. By the 1980′s knowledge of breeding techniques had improved and in 1983 there were 292 snow leopards in 73 zoos around the world. Between 1960 and 1984 there were 141 snow leopards taken from the wild, many of them from the Soviet Union (now Russia). (Info from Fox and Jackson.)
Today knowledge of behavior, feeding, mating etc is such that snow leopards breed successfully in zoos all over the world. Almost all cubs born are mother-reared, an indicator of good adaption to their zoo environment. Also Zoo’s no longer take snow leopards from the wild unless they are individuals that have been captured from poachers and hunters and can’t be returned to their natural environment.
While we all hope and work towards keeping the snow leopard alive in the wild there’s no doubt that zoo populations also have their role in helping preserve this rare species from extinction. It would be fantastic if one day we could release snow leopards from zoos back into the wild.
How many snow leopards in US Zoos?
World map of snow leopards in Zoos.