Snow leopards’ friendship is special

Staff Report

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“My favorite animal is the snow leopard. Can you tell me about yours?” — Lauren, age 7

We have two snow leopards, Everett and Zoe. Besides being beautiful big cats, these two are special because they get along so well together. Adult snow leopards usually stay by themselves in the wild, unless it is mating season or a female is raising her cubs. So it is a rare treat that the zoo’s snow leopards hang out together.

Last June, Everett turned 20 years old, making him the oldest snow leopard alive in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That gives us something extra to celebrate at our annual Snow Leopard Festival, held on Dec. 3.

Born June 22, 1997, at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Everett has been at the Santa Barbara Zoo since October 2011. Zoe, the female, is six years younger and was born at the Akron Zoo.

Everett showed an interest in Zoe when he first arrived. We did very careful introductions, which were ultimately successful. Everett is not able to father cubs, so the two don’t have offspring. Now they are just contented companions.

Some mornings we arrive at the zoo to find Everett and Zoe romping together. It’s just a blur of cats, with them rolling around and playing.

Everett interacting with Zoe is one way we know he is healthy and happy. But he’s definitely slowed down in recent years.

He’s the one usually chilling in the sunshine or sleeping in the mulch below the small viewing window. He also eats slower, so we give him more time. His diet has been adjusted to help him keep on weight. He eats it all, it just takes longer.

He still greets keepers very excitedly in the mornings. He’ll rub on the mesh and say hello by “chuffing,” which is sort of a snarl. Snow leopards can’t purr or roar, so this is how they vocalize.

The zoo’s snow leopards will be given a huge pile of snow on Dec. 3, when we celebrate these amazing animals. Join us for the Snow Leopard Festival to learn more about them.

— Michele, Mammal Curator