The story of Bhutan the very special Snow Leopard.
The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS) was supposed to welcome a very special resident. “Bhutan,” a 10-year-old snow leopard had been retired from an AZA accredited zoo and TWS had been chosen for his forever home….but that has now changed.
Bhutan was residing at the zoo as part of the Species Survival Plan, designed to conserve the species, but was found to be non-reproductive and therefore retired from that program. He also has had part of his tongue removed due to the papilloma virus and he has some slight eye issues. Because of his tongue surgery, he cannot groom himself and is a bit disheveled. He has spent years living indoors in the holding area due to this. The zoo keepers describe Bhutan as a calm and responsive cat.
“The zoo wanted Bhutan to go to a reputable, accredited sanctuary where they knew his special needs would be met,” said TWS Director, Tammy Thies.
“We are very pleased with the final location for Bhutan. We all have a great deal of respect for the work done by the Wildcat Sanctuary,” said the curator of the zoo who contacted TWS.
We were thrilled to provide this special cat the retirement he deserved. It was our understanding this placement was approved by the out of state placing Zoo, the Snow Leopard SSP, the Felid TAG and the AZA’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee. Dr. Ron Tilson and Minnesota Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke also provided references for TWS along with the out of state placing zoo. We are so grateful for this team of experts that made recommendations on behalf of TWS and Bhutan.
With the support of many donors, we began building a new quarantine area and 7,000 sq ft free-roaming enclosure for Bhutan. This presented a considerable amount of time and financial commitment on our part but we were happy to do it to provide Bhutan a forever home. In addition, over 100 pages of vet records were sent for TWS Medical Director to review so our medical staff would be prepared.
An hour before leaving the state to go pick-up Bhutan, it was discovered that Bhutan was on loan to the placing zoo and actually owned by another AZA zoo on the east coast that had loaned him out years earlier. The zoo who had ownership of Bhutan declined placement at TWS and requested Bhutan be returned to their zoo in early October.
It is our understanding that the reason for this decision was because we are not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), even though we hold both ASA and GFAS sanctuary accreditations and received the USDA Honor Award. We respect their standards for animal dispositions and expressed our willingness to pursue this accreditation and plan to do so in early 2013, but that did not change the outcome for Bhutan. Each zoo has their own disposition standards, as long as they exceed the AZA standards, and many AZA zoos have retired animals to credible sanctuaries. We wish that was the case this time.
Our goal has always been to provide a wonderful forever home for Bhutan where he would receive exceptional care. Naturally, we are saddened by the decision and hope he lives a long healthy life. And we hope he finally receives an outdoor exhibit.
Thank you to all the wonderful and compassionate donors, volunteers, industry leaders and zookeepers that recommended TWS as Bhutan’s final home. We are forever grateful for your support.
More about Snow Leopards
Snow leopards are naturally special cats by virtue of being physically stunning and legally protected as an endangered species. Known throughout the world for their remarkable fur and elusive behavior, the snow leopard is found in the rugged mountains of Central Asia. Snow leopards are perfectly adapted to the cold, barren landscape of their high-altitude home, so Bhutan would have loved the winter here! Despite a range of more than 2 million kilometers, there are only between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN), U.S. Department of Interior, and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) all list snow leopards as endangered, with less than 4,000 left in the wild.
According to the Snow Leopard Trust, thousands of skins were taken for the fur trade in the early part of the century. As late as 1966, The New York Times Magazine published a full-page ad for snow leopard fur coats. Today, the legal fur trade has been greatly curtailed and legal protection is provided to some degree. Poaching for fur, however, still occurs and snow leopards are also perceived as livestock pests in some areas.