Denver Zoo's new baby snow leopard Misha makes public debut but visitors asked to remain quiet

DENVER - The Denver Zoo's new baby snow leopard, Misha, is now making her public debut after zookeepers removed the coverings to her windows this week.

Misha was born on May 13 but after quietly bonding with her mother behind the scenes, zookeepers removed the window coverings on Wednesday so she could meet the public.

Still, zookeepers ask that visitors to the Felines Building be quiet and respectful, as Misha gets used to having people stare at her through the window in her enclosure.

The curious cub is learning to climb, jump and pounce under the watchful eye of her mother, zookeepers said.  As the only cub in her litter, Misha has been getting all of the milk she wants, and has grown nearly 4 pounds since her birth, now tipping the scales at about 5 pounds. As a full grown adult she could weigh around 75 pounds, the zoo said.

Misha was born to Natasha and Himal. Natasha was born at Wisconsin's Racine Zoo in April 2001 and came to Denver Zoo in July 2002. Himal was born at Utah's Hogle Zoo in May 2009 and arrived at Denver Zoo in May 2010.

The two were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals.

Snow leopards are classified as "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and their numbers are decreasing quickly. Major threats to their survival include poaching for their rare fur, bones and other body parts, loss of habitat and decreasing availability of prey animals. Currently, their wild population is estimated at between 2,000 and 7,000, the zoo said.

This species is native to rocky, mountainous areas above the tree line in central Asia and in the Himalayan regions of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, the zoo said.

They are well adapted for their harsh lifestyle with well-developed chest muscles and powerful, short limbs that help them climb and leap in the rocky terrain, while their long tails help them balance on small, mountain ridges. To protect them from the cold, they have long, thick hair that covers a dense woolly under-fur and their bushy tails are also long enough to wrap around their bodies and heads. Even their large paws are fully furred to provide warmth and good traction on snow. Their smoky gray fur, with dark gray rosettes, also provides camouflage that enables them to blend into their rocky, snowy habitat.

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