Our look at the life of 5-year-olds continues in honor of Zoomazium’s big 5th birthday. In this post, zookeepers shed some light on what life is like for a 5-year-old snow leopard.
Q: Human children at age 5 are still very young and completely dependent on their families for care. Give us a brief description of what life looks like for a snow leopard. Is age 5 young or older for this animal?
A: At 3 years of age, our male snow leopard Tom had all ready consummated a relationship and at 4 years of age he was a father of two! Next year at age 5 he will once again hopefully father more children. Cats mature very quickly. In captivity snow leopards can live to be 18, although some live longer and a very few live to 21. Scientists are still researching how long snow leopards live in the wild but a domestic housecat would be considered in its upper 30s in human years when it was 5.
Q: For humans, kindergarten is just starting at age 5. Sometimes we go to school away from our parents and start being independent during the day. When do snow leopards start becoming independent from their families and how do they learn to do so?
A: Since snow leopards are so elusive in the wild, it is hard to study them. As a result, scientists don't know for sure exactly when wild snow leopards become independent, but the current thinking is that it is most likely between 2 and 3 years. In those first few years, cubs are busy learning from their mother, watching her and replicating her behavior, preparing them with the skills they need to be on their own soon after.
Q: Although we are beginning to be more independent at age 5, we still must be able to tell familiar people from strangers and know where home is. How does a snow leopard know its family and friends from others?
A: Snow leopards are thought to be largely loners though recent information seems to suggest a more active social calendar. Snow leopards use smell and sound to keep track of each other, more often in order to avoid each other than to see one another. They spray urine that conveys lots of information such as who they are and reproductive status.
Q: Kindergarten is also a time of learning. We learn our numbers, letters and other useful skills for life (like how to tie our shoes). What kind of skills do snow leopards need to learn for life and when and how do they begin learning?
A: Snow leopards need to learn how to hunt other living things and they begin learning as soon as they can walk and follow mom and watch her do it. They also learn social etiquette that should keep them out of trouble.
Q: An important step in Kindergarten is learning to share and make friends. How do snow leopards make friends and interact with each other?
A: Unless they are related snow leopards probably do not interact with other snow leopards unless they are spreading genetic material. But there is just too much we do not know about these elusive cats, so it is possible that snow leopards may socialize outside of the breeding season or even share a kill depending on how well they get along.
Whether you are a human, a snow leopard or a penguin, being 5 is an exciting time. Celebrate Zoomazium’s 5th birthday with us this weekend with enrichment treats for the zoo’s notable 5-year-old animals!
Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dale Unruh/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.