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Meet the Magnificent Marai

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Meet Marai! Photo by Elena Mavros, @greekgal.esm via Instagram
You may have noticed a new furry face—plus some new spots, paws and a long tail—at the snow leopard exhibit over the past few months. Say hello to Marai. This 2-year-old female was born at Los Angeles Zoo in 2017 and arrived here at Woodland Park Zoo earlier this year. 

Marai is sweet, sociable with her keepers and likes knuckle bones! Photo by Elena Mavros, @greekgal.esm via Instagram
While she’s not quite mature enough to breed yet, it is hoped that Marai will eventually pair up with Aibek, who is her same age and was born here in 2017. The Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP), a conservation breeding program for endangered animals at accredited zoos, has matched these two cats as a recommended breeding pair in another year or so. Other than making adorable cubs, the goal of SSP programs like this is to increase the genetic diversity and health of species at risk of extinction.

If opposites attract, then Marai and Aibek should hit it off just fine when the time comes. Our animal care staff says that Marai has a sweet disposition, is quite sociable with her keepers and likes to chuff. A chuff is a non-aggressive puffing kind of vocalization that some big cats do.

Aibek is learning to be independent and will be ready to meet Marai next year. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Aibek—who will be 2 years old in July—is becoming more like his mom, Helen, who has a more independent and feisty personality. He is just at that age when cubs become adults and in the wild they would leave their mothers to find their own territory. But like many teenagers, he is at that in-between phase of seemingly wanting to stay near to his mom, but also wanting his own space. Perhaps he is working on his independence, so it’s a good thing he and Marai probably won’t be introduced to each other until next year. 

Helen enjoyed the snow earlier this year. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Like many big cats, all of our snow leopards love scent enrichment. Enrichment is any activity that elicits an animal’s natural behaviors like foraging, browsing, hunting, seeking out new smells and marking territories. Our keepers will often mark parts of the exhibit's outdoor area with tempting smells like coffee grounds, various spices and strong colognes or perfumes. The snow leopards have expensive taste because the keepers tell us one of their favorites is a rather pricey Calvin Klein scent! 

Dhirin, a 14 year old male, is Aibek's father. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Marai is somewhat interested in scents, but she is even more excited by food enrichment. (Perhaps she’s not a Spice Girl?) Our keepers say the thing she likes most (what she wants, what she really, really wants) is a beef knuckle bone. It is, by far, this girl’s favorite treat!

Marai is one cool cat (zig-a-zig-ah!) Photo by Elena Mavros, @greekgal.esm via Instagram
When you come to visit our snow leopards there are three different groupings you might see. Marai and Aibek each get some solo time in the outdoor part of the snow leopard habitat and they rotate with Helen and her mate Dhirin (pronounced “DIH-dihn”) who share the space together. Both of them are 14 years old and are Aibek’s parents.

Each of our snow leopards has their own distinct personality! Photo: Elizabeth Bacher/Woodland Park Zoo
Not sure who you’re looking at? There is a great sign at the front of the exhibit with pictures and descriptions of all our snow leopards. Take a peek and see if you can identify which cool cat is which!

A wild snow leopard is on the prowl in Shamshy Wildlife Sanctuary, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by SLF Kyrgyzstan / Snow Leopard Trust / SAEPF
Snow leopards are one of the world's most endangered cats and are native to the high mountain ranges of Central Asia and Russia, including in Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan. In the wild, their population is estimated to be between 3,900 and 6,300.

To help ensure the future of snow leopards in their native range, Woodland Park Zoo supports the Snow Leopard Trust. It was created in 1981 by the late Woodland Park Zoo staff member Helen Freeman, the namesake of Helen. Through innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the SLT is saving these endangered cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia.

Marai as a younger cat. Photo by Elena Mavros, @greekgal.esm via Instagram
Baby snow leopards Meru and Marai at the Los Angeles Zoo.  Photo by Elena Mavros, @greekgal.esm via Instagram