Could that be a solution to endangered cats in the wild? So many zoos are now breeding snow leopards successfully but unfortunately at this time it just can’t be done.
One scientist who’s done a lot of research to see if captive bred animals can be reintroduced into the wild is Kristen Jule of the University of Exeter in England. She studied over 2,000 captive animals (all carnivores) that were released but unfortunately found that less than a third of them survived even the first 6 months.
No snow leopards have been released and studied but Jule did study lynxes and panthers, also big cats. “The captive-born animals are at a particular disadvantage because they have less fear. They’re more likely to be in risky situations and are often left without the hunting skills or disease immunity they need to thrive in the wild,” she says.
Jule doesn’t rule out future success but she believes we have to do a lot more training before release is successful. She believes the animals must be reared by their own parents and not humans as often happens in zoos. Also they need to be able to learn to hunt, and this is probably the hardest thing to do in a zoo environment where feeding live prey is contentious and no longer done. Other skills captive animals usually lack is the ability to find shelter for themselves, without which in the wild, they often die. And then with snow leopards of course there is the added problem of finding a safe habitat for them without herder predation or poaching.
Kristen Jule says “the next step is for scientists, conservationists and animal welfare groups to develop guidelines to help captive animals prepare for a new life in the wild.”
So it seems we’re still a long way from being able to do this successfully with our beloved snow leopards. Even more reason to focus on supporting those that still exist in the wild.