Two snow leopards are flying more than 6,500km for around 10 hours to land in Calcutta on Saturday morning on their way to Darjeeling zoo.
The full-grown female leopards, both aged three years and four months, are gifts from Lodz zoo in Poland.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the conservation status of species, has listed snow leopards as endangered.
“The two female leopards are donated by Lodz zoo as part of an ongoing project related to conservation breeding in captivity. The leopards were originally owned by the Leipzig zoo in Germany. Lack of space had prompted the German zoo to gift the pair to the Polish facility,” said Alankar Jha, the director of Darjeeling zoo.
“There have been 52 births of snow leopards at Darjeeling zoo and the animals were exchanged with other zoos in India and abroad,” said Jha.
To make the breeding programme successful, the authorities needed to bring animals with “new bloodlines”.
With the arrival of the pair from Poland, the snow leopard count at Darjeeling zoo would rise to 11. Of them, eight are inter-related.
The snow leopards from Poland, each weighing about 50kg, will fly into the city on an Emirates flight and land around 8.15am.
The animals were boarded at Warsaw airport on a Dubai-bound Boeing 777 flight in two steel cages on Friday. The cages, covered on all four sides, are ventilated.
“The leopards are put in the aircraft’s cargo hold with water. The temperature in the cargo hold is controlled so that the animals don’t suffer any discomfort,” said Amin Khan, the cargo manager of Emirates in eastern India.
At Dubai, the animals will have a transition of three hours. From Calcutta airport, the leopards will be boarded on a temperature-controlled van and taken by road to Darjeeling. Snow leopards, found in central Asia at altitudes between 10,990ft and 22,000ft, live in temperatures varying from seven degrees Celsius to -25 degrees Celsius.