A trio of endangered eight-month-old Snow Leopard cubs at the Tulsa Zoo got early Christmas presents from their keepers – including a life-sized cardboard Christmas tree. In a matter of minutes, the curious cubs felled the tree, then went on to explore giant candy canes, garlands, and more.
Photo Credit: Ruth Holland/Tulsa Zoo
All of these items are enrichment for the cats. Enrichment provides novel smells, textures, tastes, or play items to stimulate animals physically and mentally.
Born May 3, the cubs’ birth was recommended by the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which manages rare species to maintain high genetic diversity. Sherab, their mother, takes excellent care of her cubs.
Named Kavi, Amir, and Zahra, the cubs have experienced some health challenges since birth. All three were born with congenital abnormalities in their eyelids, which resulted in incomplete eyelid formation. These abnormalities left their eyes more vulnerable to trauma or other damage. Eyelid abnormalities affect domestic and exotic felines, including Snow Leopards. To correct these abnormalities, the zoo enlisted the help of a veterinary ophthalmologist who performed corrective surgeries to give the cubs more functional eyelids. The surgeries were a success, so each cub now has properly functioning eyelids. To ensure their safety and wellbeing, Kavi, Amir and Zahra remained behind-the-scenes with mom, Sherab, for their first few months as they received constant care and monitoring.
Native to Central Asia’s mountainous areas from Afghanistan to Kazakstan and Russia to northern India and China, Snow Leopards are listed as endangered due to poaching and habitat loss.