A New Snow Leopard Beau

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Welcome to San Diego, Beau!

In search of: White male with black spots. Likes long walks at high altitudes and dining on blue sheep. Must want children. No commitment required.

How do the animals at the San Diego Zoo find their mates? Not through personal ads but a system called Species Survival Plans, or SSPs. They are a lot like online dating for zoo animals, except instead of matching likes, dislikes, or interests, they match animals based on genetics. This matching insures that zoo populations of the most endangered species will keep healthy and viable well into the future. On the Zoo’s Big Cat Trail, one of our active SSP members is the snow leopard.

In 2006, we received a pair of snow leopards, Anna and Everett, who were determined by the SSP to be a desirable pair. Fortunately they also found each other desirable and became the “it” couple of Big Cat Trail. Anna and Everett were unusually compatible, considering that snow leopards, like most cats, are highly solitary. Usually cats only come together during breeding season and separate soon thereafter; the male has no part in raising their kittens. Our pair, in contrast, spent all their time together, grooming each other and even playing together. I could even feed both cats right next to each other with no fighting or spitting! When breeding season came around, usually starting around New Year’s Eve, mating would occur but, unfortunately, never resulted in any births. After several years, the vet staff examined both leopards very closely and came to the conclusion that Everett was infertile.

Giving Anna the chance to contribute to the next generation of snow leopards is still important, so the SSP found a new suitor who resided in nearby Santa Barbara, California: Beauregard. After some training using his favorite treat, beef heart, Everett acclimated to being in a crate and would enter voluntarily. My last vivid Anna/Everett memory will be just after a training session as Everett was rolling in fresh hay in the crate as Anna, just outside the crate, was leaping up and playfully batting him in the face. When the time came, my supervisor and I loaded Everett up, drove him to his new home in Santa Barbara, and brought Beau back with us to San Diego.

Now we face the challenge of introducing two cats to each other. Although it will be hard to match Everett and Anna’s compatibility, we are hoping Anna and Beau get along well, as neither has parented any kittens before. Stay tuned or stop by the snow leopard exhibit to see how Beau and Anna are getting along. Breeding season is just about to start, so keep you fingers crossed!

Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Feline Fun.