Before they make their official debut to the public this Sat., August 25, we gave our snow leopard cubs the chance to take their very first steps out onto exhibit this week to get comfortable with their new surroundings.
Shanti (left) with mother Helen and sister Asha (far right). Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
On the first day that we gave 16-week-old cubs Asha and Shanti access to the exhibit this week, they never stepped foot outside of their holding area! This was likely due to a combination of their own shyness and their mother Helen’s cautiousness. On day two, they didn’t do too much better. Keepers eventually got them to go out into the exhibit but it lasted for just a few short minutes and they ran back inside to their mother not to be seen again that day.
Helen grooms her cub Asha. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Finally, on day three of these soft introductions, we had success! Helen led the way outside to the exhibit, checking things out to make sure all was OK for her cubs. Asha was the first to follow mom out. Asha is the more adventurous of the two sisters, so it was no surprise to see her slink out onto exhibit behind mom, while Shanti stayed behind at the doorway, not quite ready to make her move.
|Asha explores her exhibit. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.|
It didn’t take long before Asha started exploring her new home. The spry little cub stalked around the rocks and hills of her exhibit as mom watched. Every now and then as she’d venture just a little too far away from mom, Asha would let out a little chirp to call out to her across the distance.
|Cubs Asha and Shanti with their mother Helen. The face that Helen is making is known as the flehmen response, a common feline behavior where they make a grimace face to help them take in the scents around them. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.|
Those little chirps seemed to also attract her sister’s attention, and eventually Shanti decided to brave the outdoors and join her mother and sister out on exhibit. Shanti stayed close to her mother while Asha tried to goad her into playing, jumping on her and padding all around.
|Asha jumps over her sister Shanti. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.|
Our keepers and exhibit crew have worked hard to make the exhibit sight-impaired cub friendly. Both Asha and Shanti are blind in their right eye, so provisions were made to create a safer environment for them including removing low branches and padding some of the hilly grounds with hay to make a softer landing for any tumbles.
|Come at me, bro. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.|
Watching the cubs navigate their way around the exhibit tells us a lot about how well they’re seeing their environment. It’s clear that they are aware of their surroundings and they did a great job of moving around the complexities of their space—going up and down hills, jumping over rocks and maneuvering around trees. Sometimes we see Asha move her head from side to side, which appears to be a way she compensates for her impaired vision, helping her to better take in her surroundings. Of course, their keen senses of smell and hearing and their whisker-assisted tactile abilities also help them navigate their surroundings. We think as they grow more comfortable in the space, we’ll see the cubs venturing around more and more.
|The sisters make their official public debut on Sat., August 25. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.|
Now that they’ve had some practice out there, we're preparing to officially debut the cubs this Sat., August 25. The girls will be given access to the exhibit with their mother from noon to 3:00 p.m. daily starting this Saturday. We hope you’ll head on out to the zoo to visit the family and share your pics with us on Facebook and Twitter. See you out there!