snow leopard

Toronto Zoo’s snow leopard pregnant for first time and it’s a big deal

Jita, a nearly-three-year-old snow leopard who resides at the Toronto Zoo, is pregnant for the first time.

“There might be a little snow in the spring forecast this year at your Toronto Zoo,” Zoo officials wrote on their social media pages alongside the announcement.

The Wildlife Health team used voluntary ultrasounds to confirm that Jita is carrying cubs. They noted that getting an accurate count via an ultrasound is challenging, so they are not certain about the size of the litter.

“Jita’s Wildlife Care team has been working diligently to establish the ultrasound behaviour since her arrival in Eurasia Wilds in January,” Zoo officials stated in a Facebook post. “The hardest part of the procedure: her belly fur is so thick and fluffy that it needs to be very wet for the ultrasound to penetrate to her belly (cue a lot of extra ultrasound gel)!”

The expecting father is a nine-year-old leopard named Pemba. Jita and Pemba were introduced in early February on a recommendation from the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan.

Jita and Pemba seemed to instantly hit it off and were observed breeding multiple times on February 6 and 7.

“[I]t was a case of love at first sight,” officials gushed.

The typical snow leopard gestation lasts 90 to 110 days; this would place Jita’s birth window sometime between May 6 and May 27.

While the news is exciting, it comes with some caution. Zoo officials warn that first-time pregnancies present challenges—especially with large carnivores—since inexperienced mothers don’t always know what to do.

Although Pemba has sired previous litters, medical complications meant that none of his cubs survived, so the snow leopard care team is making preparations to ensure the best possible outcome regardless of the situation.

“Ongoing ultrasounds will monitor her progress and we remain hopeful this pregnancy continues to go smoothly,” the team said.

It is rare to spot the elusive snow leopard, also known as the “ghost cat”, in the wild. As such, it’s listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list.

The Toronto Zoo participates in the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative breeding program amongst AZA-accredited North American facilities.

“Through the SSP, we maintain a sustainable population of snow leopards in human care to preserve their genetic diversity and allow them to serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts,” Zoo officials stated,  adding that—through the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Conservancy Adopt an Animal program—people can symbolically adopt a Toronto Zoo snow leopard, with funds going toward the ongoing conservation and research efforts of the Toronto Zoo to save endangered species.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO