The Darjeeling zoo has become the country’s first zoo to install infra-red night vision cameras. These will soon be used to study the movement and behavioural patterns of the endangered snow leopard.
It will also help the ongoing snow leopard breeding programme at the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. The project is funded by the Central Zoo Authority administered by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
“If successful, similar cameras will be placed in the enclosure of red pandas, another endangered species,” said zoo director A.K. Jha. “Previously, very little documentation, especially filming, was done on the nocturnal movements of the animal and its mating and giving birth,” he said.
The Darjeeling zoo has pioneered captive breeding of the snow leopard since 1986, when it launched a programme with four of the big cats.
The zoo now has five male snow leopards, five females and a two-month-old female cub.
“There have been 52 births in captivity,” Jha said. “Most of the animals have been given to other zoos.”
On February 15, a female cub was born to Neeta, a 13-year-old wild snow leopard brought from Kashmir and Karan, a 15-year-old Darjeeling zoo-bred male.
“The cub is valuable to us as it is a female and can contribute to the breeding programme,” said Jha.
Apart from the snow leopard, the 52-year-old zoo specialises in the breeding of the red panda, the Tibetan wolf, the Himalayan salamander and the crimson-horned pheasant.
The Darjeeling zoo was also the first in the world to start night-tracking of snow leopards, Jha said.
Snow leopards live in the mountain regions of central Asia. In India, they are mostly found along the Himalayas in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.