Kolkata: Darjeeling zoo, left with eight female and a lone male snow leopard, has now got a male big cat from England while another from France will arrive later this year for breeding conservation programme.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (PNHZP) in the hill station of Darjeeling runs a specialised conservation breeding programme for snow leopards, an endangered species whose survival is challenged by poaching and habitat loss.
‘Makalu’, the two-year-old phantom cat from Dudley Zoological Gardens was flown in to Kolkata from UK and then taken to Darjeeling in a special air-conditioned ambulance on Saturday.
Zoo scientist Upashna Rai said the feline was now in quarantine at the breeding center in Topkeydara, few km away from the zoo. “After it gets adapted with the local environment we plan to start breeding,” she told PTI. Zoo director Piar Chand said poor sex ratio was hampering breeding and the Central Zoo Authority was requested to send two male snow leopards.
International Studbook Keeper in Helsinki found genetic matches between ‘Makalu’ with the resident population of the zoo and therefore it was sent here, he said. Another male of the feline species from France’s Mulhouse zoo has been identified and is expected to arrive later in the year. Snow leopard breeding in the zoo had begun in 1985 and so far it has witnessed 54 births. The last one was born in 2014.
It is estimated that there are around 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards in the wild all around the world. The species, which is found only in high altitude areas, is hunted for its valuable fur and is very tough to spot. Once the population of the big cat is stabilised to around 20 healthy individuals at the conservation centre, there are then plans to reintroduce the captive-bred population in the wild, Mr Chand said.
Some of the female snow leopards in the zoo were born in captivity. Recently, two new enclosures have been constructed for resting and mating of the species. The centre also has four enclosures for the elusive and endangered red pandas, the director said.
Last year four baby red pandas were born and are doing fine now. This year another red panda is expected to deliver, Mr Chand said, adding captive-born red pandas have in the past been reintroduced into the wild by the zoo authorities.