Malaya is the more adventurous of the Akron Zoo’s newest baby snow leopards. She was born first, ate meat first and outweighs her brother by a pound.
Makalu, though more tentative, is better at tracking down smells and, so far, is the better climber.
One thing the two have in common is their favorite pastime: jumping on their mother, Shanti.
The 11-week-old cubs weren’t at all shy during their first public appearance Thursday morning in which they spent a half hour delighting the media with their playful antics. They pounced on Shanti, climbed on limbs and rocks, chased each other, walked through a tunnel bearing their names, and jumped on their mother some more.
“They’re so cute!” a photographer declared while snapping pictures.
The only challenge for the media was trying to get a decent photo of the cubs because they hardly stood still. Attempting to get a picture of the pair with their mother proved equally challenging.
The cubs, born April 14, will be on display for the general public from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. daily beginning today. They will be out longer as they get bigger.
Head zoo veterinarian Kimberly Cook provided input while the cubs played. As the two perched on a limb above their mother, she said they were mimicking how snow leopards ambush their prey from above.
“I don’t think he’s quite ready to jump that far yet,” she said as Makalu stared down at his mother below.
The cub didn’t jump and instead slid, not very gracefully, down another limb to get back on the ground.
At another point, one of the cubs fell from a limb onto Shanti, and then scrambled to get back up.
“And like Tigger, they bounce when they fall,” Cook said, referring to the Winnie the Pooh character.
The cubs’ names were chosen after a public naming contest that drew nearly 1,500 entries. Malaya is in reference to the snow leopards’ native habitat of the Himalayan Mountains. Makalu is a mountain in the Himalayas on the boundary between Nepal and Tibet.
Malaya now weighs about 11.5 pounds, while Makalu is 10.5 pounds. Shanti is 65 pounds, while the cubs’ father, Roscoe, is a heftier 80 pounds.
This is the second set of snow leopard cubs at the Akron Zoo born to Shanti and Roscoe. Two male cubs, Raj and Sabu, were born in 2012 and now live at Binder Park Zoo in Michigan and Roger Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island.
Shanti will be on display with the cubs, but Roscoe will be shown separately.
Cook said father snow leopards aren’t involved with their cubs after they are born and the zoo is mimicking this arrangement by keeping Roscoe solo.
“He’s completely paws off,” she said.
The snow leopards, which will be full grown at about a year and a half, will remain at the Akron Zoo until they are a year old when they will be sent to other zoos to promote the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. Snow leopards are an endangered species, primarily because of a loss of habitat, poaching for their pelts and killing by local farmers when a leopard has preyed on their livestock. There are about 150 snow leopards in zoos in the U.S. and there are believed to be as few as 4,000 in the wild.
Since Shanti’s last pregnancy, she has been trained by zoo staff to allow them to perform ultrasounds. The staff performed weekly ultrasounds during her latest pregnancy, helped by the use of treats.
For the first time, the zoo also was able to train Shanti to sit during X-rays so the cubs’ development could be more closely monitored. Zoo trainer Sarah Kirkman did a presentation on the technique at a recent big cats conference.
The zoo expects Shanti to be able to have another litter.
“We can’t promise anything, but we do have the go-ahead,” Cook said.
Cook said she noticed one difference in Shanti with her second set of cubs — like many women who have more than one child, she was more relaxed. She said Shanti wouldn’t let zoo staff do an initial exam of her first cubs for a week, but allowed them to look over the second cubs after only three days.
“She’s a spectacular mother,” Cook said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.