Philadelphia Zoo keeping a watchful eye on its new snow leopard cubs

    They don’t have names and they weighed only a pound or so at birth, but the Philadelphia Zoo’s new snow leopard cubs have already left a big mark at the zoo.

    Parents Maya and Amga welcomed their cubs June 9, but the young pair’s arrival was planned well in advance. Maya came to Philadelphia by way of the Toronto Zoo, and Amga arrived in 2006 from Denver. Based on their endangered status and promising genes, the pair were matched up through a match.com-like service for endangered animals.

    “For us it’s such a triumph,” the zoo’s Carnivore Curator Tammy Schmidt told NewsWorks about the planning and arrival of the cubs, both for Philadelphia and the species.

    Zookeepers have not yet handled the cubs, letting Maya figure out what it means to be a first-time mom. Even Amga has been separated from mom and babies, as male snow leopards living in the wild would naturally move on.

    “She wore the pants,” Schmidt says of Maya, and zookeepers are letting her decide what’s best for the cubs. Maya was raised with her own mother and a sibling, which means she’s got a pretty good sense of how to raise her cubs. But until zookeepers get a signal from her, they’ll give Maya all the space she needs and monitor the trio from a distance.

    While the staff waits for the nod from Maya, Schmidt says preparations are in the works for baby-proofing the cubs’ living space and getting them vaccinated.

    “We’re totally going by her timeline,” Schmidt said of Maya, “and making sure [the cubs] are nice and healthy.”

    The cubs will be checked out and named once zookeepers can begin to handle them and determine their gender. They’ll spend at least the 18- to 22-month period that cubs need to bond with mom and learn the ropes at the Philadelphia Zoo. After that, the youngsters could end up moving on to another zoo, given their endangered status and good genes.

    First, they’ve got to find their footing. As they begin to really open their eyes, the cubs can stop relying on their sense of sight and sound to find mom. After that, they’ve got an open invitation in Philadelphia.

    Should the cubs not find a home elsewhere after their two-year stay, Schmidt says, “We’ll take the commitment for the rest of their lives.”

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