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Snow Leopards at Binder Park Zoo

Updated on December 2, 2014
Capron, a male snow leopard residing at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI.
Capron, a male snow leopard residing at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI.

The snow leopard exhibit at Binder Park Zoo is one of the best in the country, providing excellent views of these elusive cats to families visiting this small zoo in Battle Creek, Michigan. The Smith Snow Leopard Encounter opened in the summer of 2008 and was highlighted by the birth of Shanti, a cute snow leopard baby born on June 16th to parents Capron (male) and Lotus (female). Shanti was the breeding pair's first successful offspring and after a year moved to the Akron Zoo in Ohio through the snow leopard Species Survival Plan to be paired with a potential mate.

The exhibit features real foliage and a downed tree (that Capron loves to climb and stretch out on), as well as several logs and trees that are climbable for the cats. One of the most interesting features is a geothermal rock that can be heated during the winter or cooled during the summer by running cold or hot water through. A small pond provides drinking water and small hallows serve as hiding spots.

The viewing area is a hut with a thatched roof and Plexiglas viewing windows that are at ground level, giving the feel that guests are looking out windows and seeing these majestic big cats in their natural environment. A black mesh fence encloses the exhibit, which gets lost in the background unless you are really looking for it. Capron and Lotus spend some of their day exploring their exhibit, looking for food and treats that the keepers have hidden under leaves, plants, or logs. These prowls sometimes take the leopards within inches of guests at the viewing window, providing amazing photo opportunities.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Smith Snow Leopard Encounter is the operant conditioning (training) area.  A wall on the inside of the hut slides away and reveals a training area where a keeper can work with one of the snow leopards through a metal fence.  The cats are worked with daily and trained to perform actions that allow keepers and veterinary staff to observe the snow leopard up close without risking putting the animal under anesthesia, which can be dangerous and stressful on the animal.  Through this operant condition training, Binder Park Zoo staff have successfully taken blood draws from Capron through the fence, which is a major accomplishment.  Other training actions allow keepers to check the animals for injury or other issues.  The leopards enjoy these training sessions as they receive rewards, usually a piece of chicken, for performing the tasks their keepers ask of them.  These training sessions also act as enrichment for the animals, stimulating them and also giving guests a chance to see staff work directly with the animals.

Start the video at 2:56 to see an example of snow leopard operant conditioning

Snow Leopard Facts

  • Experts estimate that there are between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards in the wild.
  • Range: Throughout the mountains of central Asia.
  • Snow leopards weight between 60 and 120 pounds.
  • A snow leopard's tail can be almost as long as its body! They use their tail for balance when chasing prey up and down steep mountain slopes.
  • There are around 600 snow leopards in zoos around the world.
  • Snow leopards have been seen at altitudes as high as 18,000 feet, which is just a few thousand feet short of climbing Mount Everest.
  • Conservation status: Endangered



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      maylee 6 years ago

      I love snow leopards!!!!