Chester Zoo gets its first ever snow leopards

The snow leopards have been filmed getting used to their new exhibit at Chester Zoo

Two snow leopards have arrived at Chester Zoo ahead of the opening of a huge new Himalayan habitat for the species.

It is the first time in the zoo's 93-year history that its carnivore experts have ever cared for the highly threatened big cats.

Male leopard Yashin and female Nubra's new home is a habitat which been designed to authentically recreate the rocky terrain of the Himalayan mountains, and used more than 600 tonnes of scree and rocks.

The leopards were matched up from zoos in Europe as part of an important conservation breeding programme, and conservationists at Chester Zoo say the pair have "hit it off" straight away and are hopeful that they’ll go on to have cubs in the future.

Now, the zoo has released the first images of the iconic cats exploring their expansive new home.

It's hoped the pair will have cubs in the future Credit: Chester Zoo

Mike Jordan, Director of Animals and Plants at the zoo said:

"The arrival of snow leopards is a huge milestone in our zoo’s long history and signifies our commitment to protecting another of the world’s most threatened big cat species.

"Yashin and Nubra are both just over 18 months old, so they’re incredibly playful, inquisitive and full of energy.

"They’re also both now at the age where they’d naturally start to leave their mother and become independent, which is why they’ve been paired up here at Chester Zoo as part of a European conservation breeding programme, which is working to safeguard the species from becoming extinct.

"Now that they’ve had some time to settle in and explore their new home here in Chester, the pair appear to have really hit it off and, in time, we’re hopeful that they’ll go on to have cubs together.

“This incredible new habitat not only offers visitors spectacular viewing opportunities and a fascinating glimpse into the harsh, yet beautiful world that snow leopards inhabit.

"It’ll also help conservationists here to learn more about the lives of these iconic cats, helping to further support global conservation efforts for the species."

Their home has been designed to recreate the terrain of the Himalayan mountains and used more than 600 tonnes of scree and rocks Credit: Chester Zoo

Snow leopards are elusive animals which have adapted to high-altitude living in the Himalayas and Central Asia where they face a number of threats, including climate change which is eroding the landscape they thrive in, habitat loss, poaching and retaliatory killings following cases of human-wildlife conflict.

Sightings have become so rare that they’ve been nicknamed the ‘ghost of the mountains’ by communities that live alongside them.

Mayukh Chatterjee, Regional Field Programme Manager for Asia at the zoo, added:

“Not only have we created a fantastic new home for Yashin and Nubra here at Chester, we’re also joining forces with fellow conservation charity, the Snow Leopard Trust, to contribute to vital efforts to conserve snow leopards and safeguard communities that live alongside them, to foster coexistence."

Yashin and Nubra explore their new home

Mayukh continued: "The keeping of goats, chickens, sheep and cows is a major source of income for local communities living in Kyrgyzstan.

"Snow leopards can sometimes wander into communities in search of prey and kill farmers’ livestock, which often results in retaliatory persecution of the big cats.

"By working alongside these communities, we hope to safely build up their resilience to snow leopards while also helping them generate income through a range of other sustainable livelihood initiatives which are also ‘snow leopard friendly’.

"We’ve seen huge success with this in other areas of the world with communities in Bolivia that live alongside Andean bears, and villagers in India that live in close proximity to Asian elephants, and we’re confident we can similarly improve the co-existence between people and these highly threatened cats.

"We’re hopeful that these efforts in Kyrgyzstan, in conjunction with our conservation breeding efforts here at the zoo, will play a positive role in creating a future where snow leopards not only survive, but go on to thrive."

The new snow leopard habitat will open to the public from Monday 25 March.

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