NEWTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Zookeepers hope romance blossoms for endangered snow leopards this Valentine’s Day at Binder Park Zoo near Battle Creek.
A breeding program arranged through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums matched male Raj with female Victoria.
Victoria arrived in August from Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha and is slowly being introduced to Raj.
Kathryn Sippel, Curator of Collections at Binder Park Zoo, says Raj was allowed to interact with Victoria for the first time in the same enclosure last week.
“He’s reading her signals,” Sippel said. “He knows when to stay away. He knows when to try to impress her. It’s just not quite there yet.”
Snow leopard match making is not a fast process for the animal, which lives a solitary lifestyle in the wild.
“Romance has been very slow,” Sippel said. “We haven’t seen anything yet.”
Leslie Walsh, manager of Marketing and Development, says the breeding program will help with conservation.
“If we can keep those populations strong and diverse in zoo populations, then maybe we can turn that around in the wild,” Walsh said.
A Michigan law had blocked breeding programs like this, but recent changes allow zoos to receive a permit if they follow state regulations.
“It was very exciting news for the Large Carnivore Act to (make changes) for us. It helps the species survival plan,” Sippel said.
Snow leopards have an average liter of two to three cubs, which could arrive this summer if the program is successful.
“Who doesn’t want to come to the zoo and see the baby snow leopards,” Walsh said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
Breeding for the species takes place between January and March, but if nothing happens this winter the pair will have another opportunity to mate.
“I’m very hopeful that it will be but not holding my hopes up too high because we always have next year if it doesn’t work,” Sippel said.
For more information on conversation efforts, visit the Snow Leopard Trust website.
Binder Park Zoo reopens for the season on April 16th.