Big cats are on the prowl in a scrubby patch of the Central Park Zoo, where the Wildlife Conservation Society has opened the Allison Maher Stern Snow Leopard Exhibit. The exhibit’s rugged evergreen habitat, complete with a rocky waterfall, replicates the critically endangered snow leopard’s home below the tree line in the mountains of Central Asia. The zoo’s three new cats can be viewed nose-to-nose from two lookouts.
Scientists estimate there are only a few thousand of these cats left in the wild; approximately 700 live in captivity.
“This wonderful new exhibit will offer its visitors a quick escape from New York’s urban landscape to Asia’s great mountain ranges,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, WCS President and CEO. “We hope that all who visit this exhibit will be inspired to join our efforts to help save these animals and other rare species around the world.”
The exhibit’s design makes use of the latest behavioral enrichment ideas and technology. Hot rocks provide warmth during the winter; and shallow caves and trees offer shade in summer. Fog and a waterfall add ambient cooling and dramatic visual effect; rocks and deadfall encourage the cats to pounce and play.
The off-exhibit area will serve as the breeding area and can accommodate cubs. All the WCS snow leopards are a part of the Species Survival Program (SSP), which helps ensure healthy populations of select endangered species in zoos. WCS has been involved in the management of the snow leopard SSP for many years.
WCS is a world leader in the care and conservation of snow leopards. The Bronx Zoo became the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to exhibit these rare spotted cats in 1903. In the past three decades, nearly 80 cubs have been born in the Bronx as part of the SSP, and have been sent to live at 30 zoos in the U.S. and eight countries in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America.
The Allison Maher Stern Snow Leopard Exhibit is named in recognition of a $7 million leadership gift to the WCS Gateways to Conservation campaign by Allison and Leonard Stern. Mrs. Stern has a personal passion for animals and volunteered at the Central Park Zoo in 1988. She has been a WCS trustee since 1992 and currently serves as Vice Chair of the WCS Board.
The exhibit is also a tribute to an outstanding public-private partnership and the commitment and vision of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, the New York City Council, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
WCS and Snow Leopards
WCS and has a long history of snow leopard conservation efforts in the wild, beginning in the 1970s with Dr. George Schaller’s wildlife surveys on the big cats and their prey in the Himalayas.