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Wild Ambassador at New York Zoo

The Bronx Zoo these days has a special attraction for visitors -- a snow leopard from Pakistan. "Leo" landed at the zoo last year after his mother was killed and authorities found him confused and wandering in the snowy mountains of northern Pakistan. VOA Urdu TV's Ravi Khanna has the details.

Animals, in general, do not seem happy when they are moved from their birthplace to a zoo in another country. That is why every time they are transferred zookeepers try to create an atmosphere for them that is similar to the one they came from.

But Pakistani snow leopard Leo had no problem when he was transferred from his homeland to the Bronx Zoo because there was plenty of snow, and fellow snow leopards to play with. He was brought here last year, because Pakistan did not have the facilities or the expertise to raise him in a zoo.

The Curator of Mammals at the Bronx Zoo, Patrick Thomas, says if Leo were not found, he would have starved to death in the mountains because he had no hunting skills. He says Leo would have had to spend two years with his mother to learn how to hunt. "It was in Leo's best interest to bring him to a place that could provide a superior home for him."

Thomas says he wants to take advantage of Leo's presence at the zoo and bring new genetics into the captive North American snow leopard population. He says if Leo reproduces, he will be really valuable in enhancing the gene pool of snow leopards in North America.

Thomas also talks about Leo's role as a goodwill ambassador from Pakistan. "He serves as a tremendous ambassador, both for his species, but also a good link between U.S. and Pakistani peoples."

Last year when Pakistani First Lady Sehba Musharraf was in New York she made it a point to visit the zoo. "I wish the Wildlife Conservation Society and the management of the Bronx Zoo luck in their efforts towards the preservation of wildlife, which is our joint heritage."

Thomas says he cannot say how long Leo will be at the zoo, because under the agreement with Islamabad, one of these days he will have to go back to Pakistan. But, he says, that will be only after Pakistani zookeepers are trained in raising and handling snow leopards. "We are going to work with Pakistan wildlife officials to help design a facility for snow leopards in Pakistan, probably in the northern areas. But how long that facility will take to complete we don't know."

And as far as Leo is concerned, he is unaware of these plans, and is really enjoying the zoo as his own home.