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Michigan zoo plays cupid with snow leopards to produce cubs

Associated Press

Battle Creek – Officials at a Michigan zoo are hoping its male snow leopard hooks up with a female snow leopard he was paired with through a breeding program that aims to give the threatened species a boost.

Battle Creek’s Binder Park Zoo recently introduced Victoria, a 2-year-old snow leopard that arrived in August from Omaha, Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, with Raj, who’s been at the Binder Park Zoo since 2012.

Raj, the Binder Park Zoo's snow leopard.

Until Victoria arrived, the 7-year-old Raj was the lone snow leopard in Battle Creek. Zoo officials are hoping the pair will mate and produce a litter of cubs.

The big cats were matched through a Species Survival Program breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquarium to make sure they were genetically compatible, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported.

“They do have a ‘dating profile,’ so to speak, but it’s driven by science rather than romance,” said Leslie Walsh, manager of marketing and development for Binder Park Zoo.

Walsh said the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan maintains genetic data on the snow leopard population and makes breeding recommendations focused on the goal of genetic diversity.

Kathryn Sippel, the curator of collections at Binder Park Zoo, said zoo officials had been watching the animals closely for cues from Victoria that she’s ready to meet Raj.

Kira, a snow leopard at the Stone Zoo, plays with one of her three-month-old cubs, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in Stoneham, Mass.

Mating season for snow leopards is January through mid-March, followed by a gestation period of 98 to 104 days. The species is native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia.

The average litter size for snow leopards is two to three cubs. If Victoria and Raj mate, their cubs will most likely stay at the Binder Park Zoo until they mature. After that, they would hopefully receive their own breeding recommendations, Walsh said.

Last year, Michigan’s Large Carnivore Act was amended to allow accredited zoos to breed large carnivores with a state permit.

Binder Park President and CEO Diane Thompson said the change in that law allowed the zoo to further its mission of conservation.

“When guests see snow leopards at the zoo, it’s a special experience that creates awareness and understanding that we can make a difference together – for snow leopards and other animals, too,” she said in a statement.