Snow leopards at the WWF Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling will now be filmed through the day with infra-red camera installed in their enclosures for studying their behaviour, particularly during the night.
“This initiative is a part of a research project on the conservation breeding programme for snow leopards at the zoo,” director of the zoo A. K. Jha told The Hindu over telephone on Thursday.
“For example we already know about the mating process of snow leopards, but we don't know much about the behaviour at the time of rearing. What is the interaction between a mother and her cub — such questions can be answered by this study.”
Started in 1986, the captive breeding project for snow leopards, listed as endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, was pioneered by the zoo, which has witnessed the birth of over 50 cubs. With the addition of another cub in February, there are 11 of these cats currently at the zoo.
However, the biggest challenge the programme now faces is the introduction of genetic variance in the bloodline of the snow leopards and the threat of inbreeding depression — the reduced fitness of a population as a result of inbreeding. “We are looking for animals of wild origin as they will definitely not be related with any of our animals. Recently two snow leopards were rescued by wildlife officials in Jammu and Kashmir and we are trying to acquire those animals.”
The conservation breeding programme for snow leopards is one of 10 such projects being carried out at the zoo. Other programmes that have achieved relative success include breeding of red pandas and several kinds of pheasants. “If we can get valuable data from cameras installed in the snow leopard enclosures, we may consider a similar project for filming the red pandas as well.”