Fresh Start for a Snow Leopard Orphan

August 15, 2006

The Bronx Zoo is giving refuge to a young snow leopard orphan abandoned in Pakistan. The transfer of this endangered cat united the Pakistani government, the U.S. State Department, and WCS in a remarkable conservation effort.

On August 9, the Bronx Zoo welcomed a 13-month-old abandoned snow leopard cub named Leo from northern Pakistan. Orphaned last year, Leo lacks the survival skills to remain in the wild. The transfer of this highly endangered cat to the Bronx Zoo is the result of a unique partnership among the U.S. State Department, the Pakistani government, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and other international conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and World Conservation Union. Leo will make his public debut in the park’s own swath of the Himalayan Highlands this fall.

“The Wildlife Conservation Society is proud to assist the Pakistani government by providing care for this priceless and endangered animal at our Bronx Zoo headquarters,” said Dr. Steven Sanderson, WCS president and CEO. “We greatly appreciate the efforts of the Government of Pakistan, U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy, and our overseas conservation partners in helping to facilitate the safe delivery of this most precious cargo. This is yet another example of the role conservation can play in international diplomacy, working with the global community to make the world secure for wildlife.”

After the orphaned cub was discovered in Pakistan, WCS was notified by the U.S. State Department and invited to the remote Naltar Valley by the Pakistani government. The WCS team consisted of Bronx Zoo curator of mammals Dr. Pat Thomas, wildlife biologist Dr. Peter Zahler, and senior wildlife veterinarian Dr. Bonnie Raphael. The experts conducted preliminary examinations on the cat, which indicate that he appears to be in good health. From the Naltar Valley, the team brought Leo by jeep to Islamabad, where the official transfer ceremony took place on August 8. Then, they and their new traveling companion boarded a plane bound for New York.

Snow leopards are among the world’s most endangered big cats. Only an estimated 3,500–7,000 remain in the wild, where they are restricted to remote mountains of Central Asia. Renowned WCS explorer Dr. George Schaller conducted seminal studies of snow leopards in the Himalayas in the early 1970s. The Bronx Zoo has bred more than 70 snow leopards in captivity, and was the first zoo to exhibit these big cats in 1903. As a world leader in the care of snow leopards, the Zoo will serve as a refuge for Leo until an appropriate facility can be constructed in Pakistan.

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