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Tulsa Zoo Welcomes Endangered Snow Leopard Cub, ‘Niko’

The Tulsa Zoo welcomes the birth of an endangered snow leopard cub, Niko. The 7-week-old cub was born on May 10th to mother Sherab and father, Rajan.

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 Kazakstan 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.

While Niko is doing well, his two siblings did not survive the turbulent first weeks. One of the cubs died during the birthing process and the other died just 9 days later due to bacterial sepsis in its blood. Sherab, an experienced mom, provided excellent care for the cubs in the first 24 hours as observed through closed circuit video cameras, allowing staff to monitor Sherab without disturbance. However, it soon became apparent that due to complications from the birth, Sherab would be need to be moved to the zoo’s veterinary hospital and allow the Tulsa Zoo’s expert staff to hand-raise the endangered cubs.

“The decision to hand raise a wild animal is not taken lightly and having the offspring raised by their own kind is always preferred, but Sherab needed to focus her energy on healing and recovery,” said Dr. Kay Backues, Tulsa Zoo Senior Staff Veterinarian.

The Tulsa Zoo is home to a team of experts who are proficient in hand-rearing when it is deemed to be in the best interest for the health of the animal. The cubs were placed in human care, but one of the cubs ultimately succumbed to a sudden unforeseen illness. Niko is still being hand-reared behind-the-scenes and is doing well. He continues to thrive and currently weighs more than 6 lbs. Mother Sherab is doing well and is back on exhibit.

The Tulsa Zoo will soon break ground on a new snow leopard exhibit, Lost Kingdom: 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 1980’s and has been successfully reproducing the species since the early 1990’s as well as supporting conservation efforts in the wild.