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28 Apr 2018

French lover makes a mark ... Snow leopard Namkha fathers two at Darjeeling zoo

Namkha, who came from Mulhouse Zoo in Alsace, France, in August 2016
Debraj Mitra, TT, Apr 28, 2018, Calcutta: In Darjeeling, its France 2: England 0. Namkha, a French snow leopard brought to Darjeeling's Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park two summers ago, has fathered two cubs.

Makalu, another male snow leopard brought from England the same year, is still to impress the females, according to zoo authorities.

The two-year-olds were brought as part of a captive breeding programme. Makalu came from Dudley Zoo in the UK to Darjeeling in June 2016. Namkha made the journey to the eastern Himalayas from Mulhouse Zoo in Alsace, France, in August.

Both had a stopover in Calcutta before heading out for the hills by road.

Makalu and Namkha vied for the attention of eight females. But the French lover has beaten the English fair and square.

At a captive breeding centre on the outskirts of the hill station, the leopards were kept in separate enclosures. The females were kept in adjacent enclosures to find out their preferences. Officials tried pairing them with multiple female partners.
Makalu, who arrived from Dudley Zoo in the UK in June 2016
as part of a captive breeding programme
"Namkha struck a chord with Zima, 8, brought from a Polish zoo some four years ago. It was actually the other way round, since females have to take the lead in mating," Piar Chand, director of the Darjeeling zoo, said.

The wire mesh that separated them was removed in December once the chemistry was evident.

Makalu, on the other hand, neither showed interest in the females nor got any.

"It seems he is not matured enough and will take some more time to settle down. We are in no rush," director Chand said.

Zima gave birth to the two cubs on March 4. The mother and the cubs have been kept at a special enclosure at the breeding centre in Topkedara, 25km from the zoo. It has an open space and a night shelter.

Zima is raising her cubs well, Chand said. "She is extremely protective and does not let any one near."
Zima with her cubs at a breeding centre on the outskirts of Darjeeling.
Picture courtesy: Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
Zoo officials haven't been able to tell the gender of the cubs so far.

The babies only have mother's milk. Zima is on a diet of mutton, beef and goat liver. "Liver is good for lactating mothers," Chand said.

V.K. Yadav, member-secretary, Bengal zoo authority, said the newborns were "another feather in the cap of Darjeeling zoo and the state".

The zoo is a pioneer in captive breeding of several animals, including red pandas and snow leopards.

The zoo has been conserving snow leopards since 1985.

Some more good news is on the way. Zima was not the only one smitten with Namkha. The French lover had mated with another female after Zima.

The second partner is expecting in a month, a zoo official said.

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