Spring is definitely upon us. Trees are budding, flowers are sprouting and at Denver Zoo, we are preparing for the upcoming summer season. We are expecting several new babies, like a new tapir, and getting ready to say goodbye to one of the animals that was born in 2013. Snow leopard Misha, who will be 1-year-old on May 13, is getting ready to move to her new home.
We have watched Misha grow, and learn the skills of a snow leopard from her mom Natasha. We have watched her leap from ledge to ledge in her habitat here at Denver Zoo and pounce on her mother’s tail. But even as we have watched her get bigger, we knew from the time of her birth that we would likely have to say goodbye to her.
Snow leopards are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Natures (IUCN) and their numbers are decreasing quickly in the wild. Their population in zoos is managed by an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) program called a Species Survival Plan (SSP). This program ensures a healthy population and genetic diversity among zoo animals.
Misha was born following a recommendation from the SSP to pair her mother Natasha, with male Himal. Natasha was born at Wisconsin’s Racine Zoo in April 2001 and came to Denver Zoo in July 2002. Himal was born at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in May 2009 and arrived at Denver Zoo from there in May 2010. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match. Although Misha is Himal’s first cub, Natasha is an experienced mother having given birth to cubs in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
Careful planning goes into each decision to move a snow leopard from one zoo to another. Denver Zoo’s animal managers are constantly in communication with other felid professionals (experts in cat species), veterinarians and other animal care specialists at other institutions. Together they manage all of the snow leopards in AZA facilities throughout North America as one big population. They take into consideration each animal’s genetics, compatibility and available facilities. The goal is to find an ideal location for each snow leopard in the population.
Once a recommendation to move a snow leopard to another zoo has been accepted, the staff at both zoos begin to prepare. Here at Denver Zoo, Misha has gone through a pre-move health exam and has started getting comfortable with the crate that she will be transported in. Zookeepers from her new home have been to Denver to visit to get to know Misha and things she likes and doesn’t like. Denver Zoo will send some of her current diet to her new home so they can slowly transition her to a new diet there.
While we will miss Misha here in Denver, we know that the careful, well thought-out plans from the SSP will continue to support a healthy population of snow leopards in AZA facilities. Be sure to stop by and visit Misha before she leaves for her new home.
Top photo: A photo of Misha on April 9, 2014.
Bottom photo: One of the first photos of Misha, taken July 25, 2013.