A snow leopard and a cub at the Darjeeling zoo. File picture
Sept. 1: Tourists who had planned a Darjeeling trip are not the only losers this Puja. Two snow leopards, too, have had their trip to the hills cancelled.
The animals, a male and a female, were to have been brought to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling in August from the Czech Republic for captive breeding. But the unrest in the hills has thrown a spanner in the zoo authorities’ plans.
The snow leopard is an endangered species and is in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The pair is being brought to Darjeeling from the Czech Republic for captive breeding as the animal faces extinction in India.
“As of now, we have 10 snow leopards — five males and females. After the captive breeding of the species started in Darjeeling in 1983, we have brought snow leopards from Zurich, the US and Leh in India,” said Alankar Jha, the director of the Darjeeling zoo.
“Recently, in consultation with the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the Union ministries of home and external affairs, it was decided that another pair, a male and a female, would be brought to the zoo from the Czech Republic in August,” Jha said.
The captive breeding of the snow leopard is undertaken only at the Darjeeling facility, located around 7,000ft above the sea level, in the whole of South and Southeast Asia.
Sources at the zoo said the Czech government had made all arrangements to send the snow leopards to India in the second week of August.
The zoo authorities had to ask the CZA to defer the translocation of the Czech pair after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha called for an indefinite strike in the hills in the first week of August.
“As the indefinite strike started in the hills, we informed the CZA that it would be tough to arrange for logistics and bring the new pair of snow leopards to the zoo. The animals are likely to come by an international flight and then reach Bagdogra from Delhi or Mumbai on a domestic flight. The entire process would take seven to 10 days as the well-being of the animals while on transit is equally important,” said a source at the zoo.
“So, it has been decided that the new pair will be brought to Darjeeling only after situation becomes normal in the hills.”
After the guests reach the zoo, it will take time for them to adapt to the new surroundings.
“Only after the new pair reaches here and acclimatises themselves to the new environment, there will be chances of successful captive breeding. The Czech duo will have to become pally with other snow leopards here also,” said the source.
Animal experts said the rutting and breeding season of the snow leopard starts during the winter and the females give birth to cubs within 90 to 100 days. “If the impasse continues in the hills and arrival of the new pair is delayed, it is unlikely that they can be used for captive breeding during the ensuing season,” said another zoo official.