Animal Planet’s The Zoo series reveals what it’s like running one of America’s most famous zoos: the Bronx Zoo. Now in its second, highest-ever rated, season, the show is focusing on a new cast of animal stars, as well as giving updates on the first season’s animals. Last month, we went behind the scenes with a senior kangaroo named Dave who was receiving special cryotherapy treatments for his arthritis; this time we’ve been invited to give animal lovers a sneak peek at a special needs snow leopard cub.
Snow leopards are an important species for the Bronx Zoo because they’re endangered in the wild. They are often hunted in their home territory of Pakistan by farmers who believe the big cats are stealing their own animals as prey. This cub, born in the fall of 2017, is a descendant of a famous snow leopard named Leo who arrived at the zoo in 2006 as part of a historic collaboration between the U.S. and Pakistan.
“This snow leopard cub is special not only because it is an ambassador for its species, but because of its lineage,” said Dr. Patrick Thomas, WCS Vice President and General Curator, and Bronx Zoo Associate Director, who was part of the delegation that brought Leo from Pakistan.
“Leo and his descendants, including this cub, will help bolster the health and genetics of the snow leopard population in AZA- accredited zoos,” Dr. Thomas told CBS New York last October.
Meanwhile, the new cub and her parents — mother K2 and father Naltar — live in the Bronx Zoo’s Himalayan Highlands exhibit. The gorgeous, black-speckled white felines are dubbed “ghost cats” for their tendency to hide from people and other animals.
Unfortunately, the littlest ghost cat has a way to go before she can properly play hide and seek. The baby snow leopard was born with swimmer syndrome, leaving her unable to walk properly. As a result, she’s been separated from her mom in order to receive physical therapy.
The zoo staff needs to be very clever and cautious working with a newborn who is struggling to walk. The clip above shows the devoted Bronx Zoo team as they test out various harnesses, practice feline physical therapy and worry about the influence their work may have on the cub’s bond with her mom.
“No one knew if the mother would take the cub back after being handled. That moment when they see each other again actually takes your breath away,” says executive producer Lisa Lucas.
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Of course, the ultimate goal is for the baby to grow stronger and learn to walk as normally as possible. The staff hopes she’ll be back on exhibit with her mother soon and that visitors can come and see the pair every day.
Will the tiny cub develop into a normal, healthy adult snow leopard? Tune in to The Zoo on Animal Planet, Saturday April 28 at 9 p.m. to find out.