CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The newest members of the Cape May County Zoo won the hearts of residents and visitors Tuesday during an unveiling ceremony.

Two baby snow leopards, both females born May 19, will be showcased at the zoo until they are old enough to have their own cubs.

The two unnamed cubs are the fifth litter of snow leopards at the free zoo since 2013.

Once known as the king of the mountains in places such as China, Russia and India, snow leopards have become an endangered species in recent years.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates about 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards are alive today. The No. 1 killer of the leopards is humans, according to the WWF. The long-term effects of climate change also are expected to result in a loss of nearly 30 percent of snow leopards in the Himalaya Mountains of Asia.

The Cape zoo is working to help save the leopards through a national program called the Species Survival Plan.

“It’s a breeding program that’s done throughout America,” said Alex Ernst, a 12-year veterinarian at the zoo. “This breeding pair was recommended to us by the SSP, and these cubs will eventually be paired off with a male and hopefully have cubs of their own.”

The cubs live with their mother, Tysa, and never interact with their father. Edward Runyon, the parks director at the zoo, said the cubs have to be kept in a separate den from Bataar, 8, because he could try to eat them.

“You can’t equate human characteristics with the snow leopards,” he said. “It’s just completely different.”

The births are the first for Tysa, 4, Ernst said. The staff kept a close watch on her during her 105-day pregnancy and have assisted in feeding the cubs a healthy diet. For future litters, Ernst said, Tysa will be capable of taking care of everything on her own.

“She’s taking excellent care of her cubs,” Ernst said.

The two new snow leopards also will give the Cape May County Zoo another popular attraction. The zoo has been consistently honored by national travel websites such as TripAdvisor as a first class, family-friendly tourist attraction.

“Our park and zoo are so popular now that you see a lot of repeaters come back every time there are new animals,” said county Freeholder E. Marie Hayes. “One of our major sources of income in Cape May County is tourism. This park and zoo has taken it to a new level.”

Contact: 609-272-7260 JDeRosier@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressDeRosier

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