Although snow leopards (Panthera unica) have “leopard” in their common name, they are different enough from the true leopards to have their own classification within the cat family.
At the San Diego Zoo, you can find two snow leopards on Big Cat Trail: female Anna and male Beauregard. Anna has been at the Zoo since 2006, while Beau was introduced as Anna’s new mate just last year.
The legendary snow leopards are rarely seen in the wild, as they live at high elevations in Central Asia. Their secretive behavior and remote habitat among the highest mountains in the world adds to their mystery.
Although snow leopards are listed as an endangered species, they continue to be hunted for their beautiful fur as well as for their bones, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.
An ocelot is a small cat from the New World. It ranges from the very southern region of Texas all the way to northern Argentina in South America. In the United States, the ocelot used to be found throughout Texas and east to Arkansas and Louisiana, but due to hunting and habitat loss, it is now very rare in this country. In fact, researchers believe that there may be as few as 100 ocelots living in the United States today.
Because the ocelot is such a gorgeous animal, many people have hunted it for its skin. The skin is usually made into a fur coat, and it can take as many as 25 ocelots to make one coat. People used to pay more for an ocelot coat than they did for a car! Luckily for the ocelot, it has been illegal to bring ocelots or their skins into the United States and other countries for over 30 years. Since very few people buy the skins anymore, ocelots are not hunted as much as they used to be. However, in many areas they are losing their homes when people clear the land of the brush that ocelots need to survive.
Named for its cloud-like spots, recent genetic studies have shown that clouded leopards are a separate species of cat and not just a “type” of leopard. Originally from Southeast Asia, clouded leopards are most closely related to snow leopards and are now in the same taxonomic subfamily as tigers, lions, jaguars, and true leopard species.
Clouded leopards are larger than small cat species and smaller than the large cats! Clouded leopards can purr like the small cats, but they also have a low, moaning roar, a soft chuffle, a growl, a hiss, and meows as part of their calls. The pupils of the clouded leopards’ eyes are different from any other cats’ pupils: they never get fully round like big cats’ pupils do, yet they never shrink to vertical slits like the small cats’ pupils do. Instead, they stay in an oblong shape. And then there’s that amazing tail—the longest, in relation to body size, of any cat's tail.
Our two rambunctious clouded leopard cub brothers, Rikki and Haui, are learning to be animal ambassadors in our Backstage Pass program. There are three adult clouded leopards that may be seen during Backstage Pass.
Long and lanky, cheetahs are the sprinters of the cat world. Their bodies are uniquely designed to run very fast for fairly short distances, allowing them to catch prey that other big cats can’t get.
Today, cheetahs selected to be trained as Zoo and Safari Park ambassadors are paired with a domestic dog. Why? Dogs are naturally comfortable with people, even those they don’t know. Cheetahs are quite a bit more cautious and wary of new situations; having a dog buddy who can show them that everything is okay —and even fun—helps the cat feel comfortable and relaxed. The dog’s body language communicates that there’s nothing to fear, and that relaxes and calms the flight tendencies of the cheetah. We introduce a dog buddy when the cheetah is still a cub and naturally playful. By spending time together they get to know each other and become buddies. You can usually see a cheetah, along with his or her dog buddy, during our Backstage Pass program.
Sleek, powerful, and elusive, jaguars stalk the Americas and are revered by all who share their realm. Their mesmerizing gaze and hunting prowess have earned them a prominent place in mythology and legend. Their beauty, strength, and adaptability have earned them the respect of feline admirers around the world. Jaguars are some pretty cool cats.
Today, the Zoo is home to five jaguars. Orson is a black jaguar and one of the most admired cats at the Zoo. He holds court along the Zoo’s Big Cat Trail. People often ask if his black coat color means that he's more aggressive, but keepers say Orson is pretty easy going for a jaguar. He, like most of the Zoo's animals, rotates in and out of his enclosure so the keepers can feed him and clean up after him.
The San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey habitat, which highlights animals found in our region during the Pleistocene era and relates them to their modern-day counterparts, is home to our other jaguars: Nindiri and her mate, Guapo, and their two cubs, Tikal and Maderas.