Zoo pioneers new method of snow leopard artificial insemination

March 11, 2010

Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan is hopeful of new snow leopard cubs after a pioneer articifial insemination of 11 year olde Serena.

Potter Park Zoo (in Michigan, USA) officials believe they completed one of the world’s first artificial inseminations of a snow leopard without surgery or anesthesia. Staff worked with 11 year old Serena for about a year, using behavioral training, to get her into a position where she could be inseminated.

Zoo veterinarian Tara Harrison said, ” surgery and anesthesia can be dangerous and stressful for animals, decreasing success rates.”

“Typically with these animals, in order to touch them, you have to anesthetize them because they’re dangerous,” Harrison said. “She understands that if she lays still and lets us touch her, she gets rewarded with a lot of food, which is a whole lot easier and safer for her than doing it under anesthesia.”

If the procedure is successful, Serena could have cubs in about 100 days. “It will take at least a month to find out whether she is pregnant”, Harrison said.

When Zoo use anesthesia, artificial insemination is successful about one in three times for snow leopards. Harrison believes Serena’s chances could be better because of the new procedure.

Full story here.

Avatar’s Na’avi people inspired by snow leopard eyes

March 11, 2010

John Rosengrant, from Legacy Effects, the team that did the special effects for Avatar said in an interview that the look of Pandora’s Na’avi people, with their huge eyes, was based on the eyes of the snow leopard. The team was inspired by snow leopard eyes and then experimented with the color, finally choosing a warm gold and less green than a real snow leopard’s eyes.

Snow leopard cubs by the way, have beautiful deep blue eyes until about 3-4 months of age.

“You always draw from nature,” says Rosengrant, “because you’re trying to make the unbelievable believable.”
More on Avatar’s special effects for the movie here.

Sad end

March 8, 2010

Captured snow leopard in Afghanistan. Photo by Richard Fite. Story USA Today.

As humans we’re always looking for the positive in a story. We have to look pretty deep to get a positive from this horrible story from Afghanistan this week. Some conservationists are saying it shows that local Afghans are more protective of snow leopards now – lets hope so. But the sad death of this animal was pretty shocking.

At the end of February a German civilian heard about a possible snow leopard for sale for $50,000. Richard Fite, a senior agricultural advisor with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, currently stationed in Afghanistan, said he became involved when an official in the Afghanistan National Environmental Protection Agency (ANEPA) did the right thing and contacted police.

When Fite saw the snow leopard it was in terrible condition

It “had been snared, had all four legs bound together, and was transported by truck for at least 2-3 days over a terrible road in cold damp weather, poked and prodded by many, held in captivity for a week.”

“For a normally solitary, wild animal, the mental stress would have been just unimaginable.  When I first saw the animal, on its fourth or fifth day of captivity, it was already in trouble — quite passive and subdued.  During the next two days, it became progressively more so.”

Fite worked with international and local officials to provide aid in the form of heavy mittens, an improvised rabies pole, an electric heater and medical supplies for the animal’s treatment. The Aria Guest House in Feyzabad, provided a secluded location for the cat.  It also provided food, staff, and a small propane heater. USAID organised a helicopter to transport the leopard back to the Wakhan corridor once it was healthy.

Sadly, despite everyone’s great efforts, the snow leopard died.

“It seemed to respond to subcutaneous fluids given the afternoon of the second day, but died early the following morning.” Full story here.

In a letter to the Snow Leopard Network members Fite said,  ” the final outcome of course is not what we all wished but on the positive side, I note that this incident generated a great amount of publicity for snow leopards in Afghanistan and that interest in this animal reached all the way to the highest levels of the Afghan government and the U.S. Embassy.  Perhaps that, at least, is a good sign for the future.”

Thankyou to ALL those people who desperately tried to save this animal.

Herdsmen in China sentenced to prison for killing snow leopard

March 8, 2010

BBC News has reported the following story. “Two herdsmen have been sentenced to eight and 10 years in prison for killing a snow leopard in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
China’s state news agency Xinhua quoted local authorities saying the men had set a trap after wild animals had been preying on their sheep. When a snow leopard was trapped, they stoned it to death and gave its fur, bones and internal organs to others.
The wildlife protection office of Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture confirmed that the animal they killed was a snow leopard, said Yang Jianwei, a publicity official of Manas County Committee of the Communist Party of China, where the men were convicted.
Xinhua reported that five suspects who had allegedly killed two snow leopards were arrested in January this year by the Public Security Bureau of Luntai County, Xinjiang. Four people were sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing and selling four snow leopards on 19 November 2008.”

It’s good to see China enforcing its laws on the illegal killing of snow leopards but it would be so much better if education helped people understand they shouldn’t kill them in the first place. Sadly a no-win for the herdsmen and a no-win for the snow leopards.

Indian Army rescues injured snow leopard

March 5, 2010

Injured snow leopard in Indian Himalayas rescued by Indian Army and Dept of Wildlife officials.

Sketchy news about an injured snow leopard in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir. Apparently the Indian Army has rescued an injured snow leopard trapped near Tangtse, a tiny village about 50 km east of the capital, Leh.

One report said the snow leopard was hiding behind a big stone while another report had the snow leopard actually in the village. In any case the villagers no doubt felt the cat would be a threat to their livestock. It’s not known at this stage how the snow leopard came to be injured.

On hearing the news of the cat troops from a nearby Army unit rescued it with the help of a camouflage net and a blanket.

A team from the Department of Wild Life at Leh headed by Mr. Norbu, shifted the injured snow leopard to the Animal Rescue Centre with the help of the Army troops, where it was treated, fed and kept overnight. The injured leopard was then taken to Leh for further treatment & rehabilitation.

We look forward to hearing good news that this snow leopard can be released back into the wild.

“A rare and precious sight” Tom McCarthy reflects on seeing a snow leopard and her three cubs in the wild

March 4, 2010

Tom McCarthy in Mongolia, working on Snow Leopard Trust 10 year project. Photo Snow Leopard Trust.

Tom Mc Carthy is Director of Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera (the conservation agency started in 2006 to protect the world’s 36 species of wild cats). He’s currently working on a long term snow leopard project in Mongolia but recently wrote about an magical moment 12 years ago when he saw an elusive snow leopard mother and her three cubs in the wild.

“Routinely eluded by these secretive cats, I didn’t expect to see her today. Then, like a ghost, she appeared from a brush thicket three hundred yards down slope. For the first two minutes, I didn’t breath, hoping not to attract her attention….

Then, with no concern for stealth, three balls of fur exploded from the brush, crashing into their mother’s legs. Cubs! The 2-month-olds tussled with each other and rolled into a shallow ravine. I tucked myself farther into the shadow of the boulder, but at this distance I was surely well hidden. I thought.


An instant later, the mother leopard turned slowly and looked toward me. She seemed to stare directly into my telescope, clearly not pleased. With that, she abruptly departed, urging the three cubs to follow. Stopping to pick up a straggler in her mouth, she topped the next ridge, and the family disappeared. I tracked her many times over the next 4 months, yet she never allowed another glimpse of those cubs. A dozen years later, I reflect on that day, and am content to have had a moment in the presence of such a rare and precious sight.”

More on Tom McCarthy’s conservation work on the Panthera website here.

Full story here.

The other snow leopard in the media this week…

March 1, 2010

Ghana's snow leopard Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong. Photo Getty Images.

Good luck to that other snow leopard making all the news at the moment, Kwame-Nkrumah Acheampong, Ghana’s one-man ski team. This snow leopard only got into snow for the first time in 2003 after moving to Britain where he got a job at an indoor ski-slope in southern England.

“I began skiing at the ski center and took a few lessons as they were free for staff. But I quit my job when the love affair with skiing grew because I felt I had a good chance of making it professionally,” he told CNN.

His dream of qualifying for the Winter Olympics, came true after six years of struggle and hard work.

He’s become a celebrity at these Games with so much media interest and he’s hoping that his performances and the publicity he’s generated in Canada will inspire youngsters in his country to take to snow and ice.

I’d say he’s also generated a lot of interest in the four-legged snow leopards in the last few weeks, and snow leopard conservationists thank him for that.

New snow leopard research in Russia

February 22, 2010

Tuvan family in traditional clothing. Photo Wikipedia.

During February-March of 2010 the staff of the biosphere nature reserves “Sayano-Shushenskiy” and “Ubsunurskaya kotlovina” will be carrying out a census of the snow leopard  in the south of the Republic of Tuva, a tiny area in far south Siberia, with just over 300,000 people and remote mountains. They will be supported by the WWF Russia. Snow leopards are called irbis in Russia.

“In the process of the field observations, information will be collected about poaching activities regarding this species, and also about cases of irbis attacks on livestock. Recommendations about protection of irbis in these centers of their range will be worked out on the basis of the results of field research,” – explained the co-ordinator of the project WWF, Mikhail Paltsin. More on this project here.

Snow leopards and tigers “sister species”

February 22, 2010

Siberian tigers also live in snow. But many other tigers live in jungles and tropical climates. Photo Wikipedia.

Scientists have conducted a DNA analysis of the big cats and found the tiger and snow leopard are “sister species”. Brian Davis, Dr. Gang Li and professor William Murphy published their findings in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution recently.

It has long been known that the five species of big cat, the tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard, which belong to the Panthera genus, and the two species of clouded leopard, are more closely related to each other than to other smaller cats. But the exact relationships between them have been hard to identify.

19th century painting of a tiger by Kuniyoshi Utagawa. Photo Wikipedia.

The researchers looked at differences and similarities between the big cats species in terms of the genetic information stored in their mitochondrial DNA, and the gender chromosomes. They found lions, leopards and jaguars were found to be the most tightly linked, with a common ancestor probably living about 4.3 to 3.8 million years ago.

But also at this same time (around 4 million years ago) the common ancestor of snow leopards and tigers appeared.

Today sadly both these beautiful cats have another thing in common – they are among the world’s most endangered big cats. Fewer than 3500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild and estimates for snow leopards vary from 3500 to 5000.

This year, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, is an opportunity to help protect both these cats and learn more about them and their habitat.

See more on the BBC website.

Shimbu celebrates her 21st birthday

February 22, 2010

Shimbu rubbing into some peppermint scent. Pic by Mark Smith, HerSun.

Shimbu is one of two adult females at the Melbourne (Australia) Zoo and 2 days ago she celebrated her 21st birthday! Happy birthday to this beautiful cat.

Arthur, one of the senior keepers, said she was going well. She had a full medical about a year ago and of course she’s a bit stiff , after all her age is like a human being over 100!

Shimbu is definitely one of the oldest snow leopards in zoos anywhere and after the death of Patora in Nagoya Zoo last week (21 yrs and 9 mths) she may even be the oldest. You go grrrl!