To reintroduce captive-bred endangered animals like red panda and snow leopard into the wild, the Darjeeling zoo has now started a new breeding conservation centre for wildlife.
Built in an area of five hectares inside the zoo, the centre hosts three pairs of snow leopards and two pairs of red panda, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park director, A K Jha, said.
“As per the guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority, our main objective would be to ensure a safe and healthy transition of captive-bred animals from the zoo to the wild. This new centre with all the required facilities will help us achieve that,” he said.
In the years 2003 and 2004, they had released four red pandas, born under captivity, into the wild. Two of them, however, died later on for not being able to take the pressure of jungle.
“Our resources were limited that time, but now we have guidelines from IUCN and CZA. We are also doing our own feasibility study before we restart the process. We are very cautious this time,” the zoo director said.
Although snow leopards have been born under captivity here since 1989, yet none have been released into the wild so far. The official said they should be able to release red pandas into the wild in the next 1-2 years, but the snow leopards would take around 4-5 years.
Two female cubs were recently born to a snow leopard brought from Czech Republic.
“Releasing them into the wild will take time. We will have to train them to be able to hunt food in a forest,” Jha said, adding that they would also have to find a proper habitat which the species can adopt as their new home.
At present, the zoo has 14 snow leopards and 17 red pandas. It is the first Asian Zoo to have started captive breeding of snow leopards.
An endangered species, snow leopards are found in higher altitudes of the Himalayas and are hunted for their valuable fur.
A joint initiative of both the state and central government, the Darjeeling zoo is also conducting conservation programmes for other endangered Himalayan species like Tibetan wolf, Himalayan salamander, etc.