Watch These Snow Leopard Cubs Sleepily Snuggle

Chicago welcomes two new cubs of the endangered species.
Aug 30, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Big yawns, clumsy steps, and a whole lot of licking: Snow leopard cubs look like sweet kittens at 10 pounds, but they’ll soon grow into fierce predators.

The Chicago Zoological Society announced the birth of two female cubs at the Brookfield Zoo. They will make their public debut in mid-October. The cubs have been privately bonding with their mom since they were born on June 16.

Snow leopards are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Native to cold, mountainous regions in central Asia, fewer than 7,500 snow leopards are left in the wild. Approximately 600 live in captivity around the world.

The cubs’ parents are part of the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, which aims to keep diversity within breeding by working with zoos across the nation. Captive breeding programs are vital to maintaining the species until the leopards can safely return to the wild, according to conservation experts.

The big cats are vital to their ecosystems. As predators, they keep down herbivore populations, which would otherwise overgraze their habitats and lead to other wildlife loss.

Snow leopard populations have decreased owing to poaching, habitat encroachment, and human conflict. Their unique spotted coats make them a desirable target for poachers, while their bones are sought-after ingredients for traditional Asian medicines. As humans have moved into snow leopards’ territory, they’ve killed off some of the cats’ prey. And when the leopards feast on livestock as a result, herders often kill them in retribution, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Conservationists are working to halt the fur trade while educating herders about the importance of snow leopards, along with compensation for those who lose livestock to the big cats.