Snow Leopard Move
By Briony Smith & Ricky Reino
On Thursday 12th November 2015, after a few months of planning we were privileged enough to collect, transport and drop off a young female snow leopard as part of the European Endangered Species Programme.
This new addition was actually for Paradise Wildlife Park, rather than for Wildlife Heritage Foundation, however as we had originally been planning to transport one of our fishing cats to another collection in Wales (which ended up being cancelled) it was felt that it was still a great opportunity for us.
We set off from WHF at 3:45am in order to miss rush hour traffic and arrive in north Wales, ready for opening time at Welsh Mountain Zoo. The journey thankfully was nice and smooth with no disruptions except for toilet & food breaks, and a small amount of traffic whilst nearing Chester.
After arriving at the Welsh Mountain Zoo at about 10am we were met by their Zoo Manager, who took us to see the snow leopard facility as well as some other areas of the zoo. Peter, the manager, kindly took us to meet the zoos two brown bears in their off show dens, and we were able to hand feed them a few tasty treats.
A few days before the move we had been put in contact with a gentleman called Josh Guyan who had contacted PWP/WHF through the Snow Leopard Trust, with a keen interest in filming the move etc. Josh met us at the Welsh Mountain Zoo and we received a brief overview of what he was hoping to gain and produce from his filming of the event. This hopefully will be sent to us when it is all edited together.
The Zoo’s vet & Andrew, an IZVG vet were soon ready for Jessie the snow leopard to be anaesthetised so we headed back to the enclosure, where we met the head keeper and the cat keepers who gave us a brief overview of Jessie’s diet so that Ian at PWP could work it around the way he feeds his cats.
Jessie was only lightly sedated, and anaesthetised for around 10 minutes; enough time for her to have a physical examination, have her microchip number checked and then to be carried out of the house and put into the travel crate that we had brought with us from WHF. She came round quite quickly and remained calm whilst the vet was double checking that he was happy for her to leave the site.
We left the zoo at around 11am, and travelled straight through stopping only once in a service station in Coventry to check that Jessie was Ok, arriving at PWP just after 4pm. Throughout the journey, Ian, the section leader of Cats at PWP was kept up to date on progress, so he and his team were waiting at the snow leopard enclosure with flood lights set up.
Jessie remained calm when checked upon arrival, and still in her crate, was carried into her new enclosure. When everyone was safely out of the way, the door of the crate was opened to allow her access into the smaller, holding area of the snow leopard enclosure, and she calmly walked out of her crate after about 30 seconds. Within minutes she was exploring the enclosure, showing no signs of stress which was great. Because of how settled she seemed, the decision was made to allow Panja, the male snow leopard out into his side of the enclosure. Panja came out and spotted Jessie immediately and started to stalk her, unnoticed by Jessie. When she finally noticed him, she became aggressive to this strange male who she didn’t know, and started growling, which caused Panja to start strutting and scent marking along the boundary fence separating them. This is a natural behaviour for a 1st time meeting, and we are sure that over time the 2 snow leopards will accept each other and hopefully one day will produce some critically important offspring for the breeding programme.
We are both thankful to Peter, Lynn and all concerned for allowing us both the opportunity to be involved in this move as it was a crucial development milestone for both of us, and allowed us to network further with keepers from the wider zoo world. Hopefully we will have the opportunity in the future to carry out similar moves, all of which would be interesting and important for the conservation of the amazing cat species that we are privileged to look after.