I had a good chat with Matt West today at Healesville Sanctuary which is part of Zoos Victoria / Melbourne Zoo. Matt’s claim to fame (one of them anyway) is that he’s the matchmaker for Snow Leopard breeding in Australian and New Zealand Zoos. As keeper of the Australasian Snow Leopard Studbook it’s his job to help zoos wanting to breed.
“We have to chose pairs as genetically diverse as possible. It’s important we protect against inbreeding and disease.” Matt was responsible for choosing Leon and Meo at Melbourne Zoo as a mating pair and he’s obviously done a good job – Tashi and Gobi are two very healthy and handsome cubs.
Matt works with the Snow Leopard Studbook keepers from all around the world, specifically in Europe, the US and Japan. The global Snow Leopard Studbook Keeper is Leif Blomqvist at Helsinki Zoo. Leif started the Studbook in 1976 when he did a massive bit of research to find out which zoos in the world had snow leopards, the gender and age of them and the source from which they came. Since then all snow leopards in zoos around the world have been listed in this book and breeding controlled to help the species develop a healthy population in Zoos.
Matt is passionate about snow leopards and keen to see more bred in Australia where there is now a good body of knowledge about them. But he’s other passion also takes up a lot of time – the local endangered Mountain Pygymy Possum. These tiny little possums are native to our state and under threat from habitat loss and feral predation (the usual suspects unfortunately – dogs, foxes and cats.) Recent bushfires in our state threatened their habitat around the Mt buller area. Ironically during the devastating February Bushfire the Pygmy Possum and the endangered Tasmanian Devils had to be evacuated from Healesville when it seemed the Sanctuary was under threat. Luckily the sanctuary wasn’t touched.
Matt and others are working with a captive breeding program at the Sanctuary with the hope that some of them may be able to be released into the wild. You can read detail about the Melbourne Zoo program here.