Being a zoo keeper is not just about taking care of the animals within the footprint of the Zoo. Our animals may be our primary responsibility, but that responsibility stretches far beyond them. Animals in conservation care are not for entertainment or to be pets; they are here to educate visitors. Part of the protection and care we provide to animals at the Zoo extends to those in nature. There are also conservation organizations that will help these vulnerable animals. The Seneca Park Zoo, including its American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) chapter, has been fortunate enough to take part in helping some of these organizations, including Snow Leopard Trust, an organization that has done amazing work and is crucial to the survival of snow leopards.
The Zoo’s two snow leopards, Kaba and Princess, are such incredible animals with so much personality. They are a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) which pairs up genetically compatible animals in the hope of maintaining a healthy population in conservation care. Although our snow leopards have not yet produced cubs, there is hope that one day they may. And while this is still taking care of animals that are at the zoo, the program is bigger than that. The SSP is about keeping the species going so they do not go extinct. Under the care and protection of the Zoo, these cats can safely reproduce and continue their lineage.
Kaba and Princess get cozy in the snow.
Kaba enjoys a tasty treat.
Another part of a species survival is taking care of the species in nature. Snow Leopard Trust is a conservation group that works to do whatever they can to help snow leopards, including helping the people that live in areas where snow leopards are indigenous. Snow Leopard Trust provides education, from basic snow leopard facts, all the way to curriculum for college-level courses. They help the communities of central Asia with job opportunities, and herders with discount vaccinations for livestock, and even livestock insurance. The livestock insurance is an incredible program where if a shepherd loses one of his herd to a snow leopard, they can file a claim and be reimbursed by Snow Leopard Trust. This program is intended to keep the snow leopard from being killed, benefiting both the shepherd and the snow leopard. Snow Leopard Trust also does extensive research to understand snow leopards and their environment.
Many of our keepers raise money to send to conservation organizations, and some of us send our own money. I have been fortunate enough to adopt a snow leopard cub in Mongolia. Snow Leopard Trust has sent me information, as well as stuffed animals, an ornament that was hand made in Mongolia by the women of rural herding communities, a picture of the snow leopard cub I adopted, magnets and more. The donations support all the work Snow Leopard Trust does throughout China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan.
Adoption kit received by Zoo Keeper Amanda Davis.
Snow Leopard Trust has made a difference in the vitality of snow leopards, as well as the lives of the people of Central Asia. Snow leopards that are in conservation care may not seem to have much of an impression on the species in their natural range, but in fact they do. Our keeper staff has a much larger impact in the animal world than it might appear. Our job is not to just take care of the animals we work with every day at the Zoo. It is to help in whatever way we can so the entire species thrives, whether they’re in Rochester, NY or on the other side of the world. I am so fortunate to be able to work with these remarkable cats, and to be able to support the species in Central Asia.
Blog and photos by Amanda Davis, Zoo Keeper