News | 11 April 2023
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Snow Leopard sisters touch down in Wellington

Pōneke, get ready to say ‘Kia ora’ to Snow Leopard sisters, Asha and Manju as Wellington Zoo’s brand-new Snow Leopard habitat opens to visitors this Wednesday 12 April.

Snow leopard in outdoor habitat at Melbourne Zoo
Photo credit: Melbourne Zoo

“We are thrilled to be welcoming Snow Leopards, Asha and Manju, to Wellington Zoo,” says Wellington Zoo Chief Executive Karen Fifield MNZM. “Their arrival is long awaited, for both our Zoo whānau and the Wellington community. We have been blown away by the level of community support and excitement for Asha and Manju.” 

The new Snow Leopard habitat is a $6 million development, designed especially for Snow Leopards. Construction has taken approximately 18 months. 

“Our Zoo community has been very patient as we have built this new expertly designed habitat for the Snow Leopards,” says Karen. “We have managed major slips on site due to terrible weather, and other unexpected weather based set-backs, however we know our community will agree we have built Asha and Manju a fantastic new space in the Zoo, of which we are very proud. We have considered how the Snow Leopards like to play, cool off, eat, have time apart from each other and ensure all their animal care and welfare needs are met.

“I think our visitors will be surprised at the size of these ‘big’ cats. They only weigh approximately 30 kilograms and are considerably smaller than the Lions and Sumatran Tigers we care for at the Zoo. They’re all fluff and tails! Our visitors are so excited to meet them, everyday for the last couple of years we have had people ask when they will be here, and we are thrilled to say Wednesday 12 April is the day!"

“The two sisters have come from Melbourne Zoo, where they were born as part of a scientifically managed international breeding programme,” says Animal Science Manager, Simon.

“Animal Care staff from Wellington Zoo have spent time at Melbourne Zoo with the Snow Leopards, and we have also hosted Zookeepers from Melbourne. Collaboration is important to ensure positive animal welfare for the Snow Leopards, and the animals we care for at Wellington Zoo play a large role in advocating for their species," adds Simon. 

Snow Leopards are classed as vulnerable in the wild, with less than 7,000 remaining. They face a large number of threats including human/animal conflict, habitat reduction and threats from climate change.

Wellington Zoo visitors will be able to experience why these vulnerable big cats are so special and learn how people can take climate action to protect Snow Leopards and the mountain communities that live alongside them.

Wellington Zoo is proud to partner with grassroots Nepali Conservation Group, Mountain Spirit. Mountain Spirit work with mountain communities to help protect the Nepali population of wild Snow Leopards by reducing human/animal conflict. Shailendra Thakali from Mountain Spirit has come from Nepal to officially open the Snow Leopard habitat alongside Deputy Mayor of Wellington, Laurie Foon. 

The new Snow Leopard habitat cost $6 million, alongside capital investment from Wellington Zoo Council, Wellington Zoo Trust has raised over $2.3 million of the project cost.

Wellington Zoo Trust would like to thank Wellington City Council, Te Puna Tahua Lottery Grants Board, Pub Charity Ltd, TG Macarthy Trust, Lion Foundation, Air Rescue Services Ltd, Four Winds Foundation, other funders, philanthropic donors and our Wellington community for their generous support to help build Asha and Manju’s new home. 

About Wellington Zoo

Wellington Zoo is New Zealand's first Zoo, established in 1906, and is Wellington’s oldest conservation organisation. Home to over 500 native and exotic animals, Wellington Zoo became a charitable trust in 2003.

Wellington Zoo became the world’s first Toitū carbonzero certified zoo in May 2013. Wellington Zoo received Rainbow Tick Accreditation in 2022. 

Wellington Zoo is an accredited member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia, and a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 

About Snow Leopards

The name Snow Leopard is derived from the colour of their fur. Snow Leopards prefer steep rocky habitats as opposed to snowy habitats. The climate of parts of their large range state is very similar to that in Wellington.

Snow leopards can leap up to 9 metres, they have powerful back legs that help them jump and climb up mountains. They can’t roar, and instead they yowl, growl, mew and chuff. 

Snow Leopards are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) thought to be 3,500-7,000. It is difficult to know the exact number as they are so elusive.