Chester Zoo's amazing new snow leopards cause winding queues of eager visitors

Two majestic big cats have joined the Chester Zoo family.
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Huge winding queues could be seen at Chester Zoo on Friday as hundreds of animal lovers eagerly waited to see two majestic new arrivals.

For the first time in the zoo's 93-year-history, its carnivore experts are now caring for the highly threatened Snow Leopards and visitors queued for hours to catch a glimpse of the big cats.

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The pair of leopards, Yashin and Nubra, arrived from zoos in Europe last week, after being carefully matched up as part of an important conservation breeding programme. They are both around 18-months-old and will be cared for in a specially designed habitat, made to replicate their natural home in the Himalayan mountains.

Excited visitors patiently waited to see Chester Zoo's new arrivals. Image: Ian FairbrotherExcited visitors patiently waited to see Chester Zoo's new arrivals. Image: Ian Fairbrother
Excited visitors patiently waited to see Chester Zoo's new arrivals. Image: Ian Fairbrother

The elusive animals have adapted to high-altitude living in the Himalayas and Central Asia but they face a number of threats, including climate change which is eroding the landscape they thrive in, habitat loss, poaching and retaliatory killings following cases of human-wildlife conflict. Sightings have become so rare that they’ve been nicknamed the ‘ghost of the mountains’ by communities that live alongside them.

Now, in an effort to protect the species, Chester Zoo has designed an immersive habitat, which authentically replicates the rocky terrain of the Himalayan mountains, using more than 600 tonnes of scree and rocks. The habitat has two large outdoors areas, featuring rocky outcrops, shallow cave retreats, ledges and steep rugged cliffs.

One of the beautiful Snow Leopards at Chester Zoo. Image: Chester ZooOne of the beautiful Snow Leopards at Chester Zoo. Image: Chester Zoo
One of the beautiful Snow Leopards at Chester Zoo. Image: Chester Zoo

Air-cooled caves take visitors nose-to-nose with the snow leopards while providing shelter and a cool place for the big cats when the weather is warm outside, and Chester Zoo hope the pair will go on to have cubs in the future.

The immersive habitat officially opens on Monday (March 25) and entry is free, with normal zoo admission. Queues are likely, so get to the zoo nice and early and get ready to meet Yashin and Nubra.