Niko the endangered snow leopard cub is moving into a new home at the Tulsa Zoo. Guests can see the cub beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7, in the Robert J. LaFortune WildLIFE TREK Life in the Cold building.
“At 12 weeks old, Niko is developing into a healthy and active juvenile snow leopard,” says Joe Barkowski, vice president of animal conservation and science. “Our Animal Care and Animal Health teams will continue monitor Niko’s behavior and development during his time on exhibit. Being a young feline means periods of high activity, like jumping and playing, paired with lots of naps. So we ask our guests for understanding if they stop by and Niko is not easily visible,” Barkowski says.
The Life in the Cold exhibit is planned as a temporary home for Niko. The space, which was created for the Arctic foxes, is not suitable for a fully grown snow leopard, Barkowski says. Niko will move into a larger holding area within the zoo and the Arctic foxes will return to their exhibit sometime this fall, based on Niko’s rate of growth.
Niko’s birth was in conjunction with the snow leopard SSP, or the Species Survival Plan ®, which manages species in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoos across the nation. Ranging in mountainous areas of Central Asia from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan and Russia to northern India and China, there are only 4,000-6,500 snow leopards left in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss.
The Tulsa Zoo will soon break ground on a new exhibit, The Hardesty Snow Leopard habitat, part of the Lost Kingdom complex, which is slated to open in 2015. The Hardesty Family Foundation made a contribution as the lead gift for the new snow leopard facility and they also chose Niko’s name. This new exhibit will provide the zoo’s snow leopards a state-of-the-art enclosure, while allowing guests to see the highly endangered animals up-close. The Tulsa Zoo has housed snow leopards since the 1980s, has been successfully reproducing the species since the early 1990s and supports conservation efforts in the wild.