— The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo is debuting a snow leopard cub sired by Leo – the snow leopard which became famous when he was rescued as an young orphaned cub after being found in the high mountains of northern Pakistan.
Leo has been serving as an ambassador for Pakistan at the Bronx Zoo since 2006, when a ground-breaking agreement between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United States brought Leo to New York City.
Leo’s cub, his first, was born on April 9th to mother Maya. The male cub has not yet been named.
“The rescue of Leo as a cub, conducted by two nations, the continued global interest in him, and now the story of his first offspring shows the power of the connections between humans and nature,” said Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo and WCS Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium.
The birth of Leo’s first cub has received welcoming comments from the United States and Pakistan governments. The statements emphasize the positive influence wildlife and conservation can have in the world of diplomacy between nations.
Richard G. Olson, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, said: “Seven years ago, a young, orphaned snow leopard traveled from a remote area in the mountains of Pakistan to New York City. Now, he sired a cub. His remarkable journey is testament to the commitment of the Pakistani people in protecting their natural resources, to the depth of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation, and to what can be accomplished when many individuals both within and outside government work toward a common goal. While Leo is on loan to the Bronx Zoo, we hope that his presence in the United States and ongoing bilateral cooperation on conservation efforts will help deepen the links between the people of Pakistan and the United States.”
Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, Charge d'Affaires of Pakistan said: “I commend the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo for taking good care of the orphaned snow leopard cub found in Pakistan's Naltar Valley (Himalayas) in 2005. It’s heartening to learn that Leo had his own cub, a male, this summer. Leo has served as a symbol of deep-friendship and abiding goodwill between our two countries.”
Leo was discovered as a young cub in 2005. He could not be returned to the wild because he did not have the opportunity to learn essential survival skills from his mother.
In 2006, through an agreement with the Government of Pakistan, facilitated by the U.S. State Department, a team of WCS wildlife experts was deployed to Pakistan’s remote Naltar Valley to retrieve the young snow leopard. The WCS team included Dr. Patrick Thomas, WCS Vice President & General Curator and Associate Director of the Bronx Zoo; Peter Zahler, Deputy Director of WCS’s Asia Program; Dr. Bonnie Raphael, Senior Clinical Veterinarian; and Mayoor Khan, WCS Pakistan Program Manager. The rescue effort received critical support from the Pakistan office of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and from World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan.
Malik Amin Khan, IUCN Vice President and Pakistan’s former Minister of State for Environment said, “This is great news. It shows the strength of this unique partnership for wildlife conservation across two continents - an orphaned Himalayan snow leopard cub ending up breeding in captivity in the U.S. It is also evidence of the breadth and diversity of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Since August 2006, Leo has lived at the Bronx Zoo – a world leader in snow leopard care and husbandry. The Bronx Zoo has had more snow leopard births (over 70) than any other zoo in North America and was the first zoo in the United States to exhibit these big cats in 1903. In 1987, the Bronx Zoo’s Himalayan Highlands habitat received the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Exhibit Award for outstanding design.
This is Maya’s second litter, but her first at the Bronx Zoo. She was brought to the Bronx from the Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, Illinois in November 2012 as a mate for Leo. There are currently 137 snow leopards in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program designed to maintain genetic diversity and demographic stability in zoo populations of threatened and endangered species. The cub is on exhibit with its mother until he is fully acclimated to his surroundings. Exhibit times will be intermittent and vary day-to-day.
Said Pat Thomas of the Bronx Zoo: “The birth of Leo’s first cub provides a significant boost to the genetics of the Snow Leopard SSP program but is noteworthy for other reasons as well. Not only is the cub a milestone in Leo’s personal story, but it serves as a unifying symbol that people of different cultures can celebrate.”
Snow leopards are among the world’s most endangered big cats with an estimated 3,500-7,500 remaining in the wild. Their range is limited to remote mountains of Central Asia and parts of China, Mongolia, Russia, India and Bhutan. WCS has worked for decades on snow leopard conservation programs in the field with current projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and western China. Past projects have also included work with snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
WCS Asia Program Deputy Director Peter Zahler said: “Leo – and his new cub – are living proof of the importance, power, and significance of saving wildlife. Leo has helped bring people together from around the world in an effort to save this iconic animal, and WCS is committed to working with our partners in Pakistan to help save snow leopards in the wild – as a critical component and a beautiful symbol of Pakistan’s great mountain wilderness.”
In Pakistan, WCS has been implementing a community-based conservation program since 1997 to help protect the snow leopard and other wildlife. The program includes education, training, and institution building for community resource management. WCS has helped create over 60 natural resource committees and trained over 100 community rangers to monitor snow leopards and other wildlife and stop deforestation and poaching that threatens these species and local livelihoods.
Leo has received much media attention through the years, including in 2010, when Craig Hatkoff and Isabella Hatkoff released a children’s book about the big cat’s journey from Pakistan to the Bronx Zoo.