Brookfield Zoo hopes for snow leopard love

December 7, 2011 (BROOKFIELD, Ill.)

First there is "Sabu," Brookfield Zoo's new 1 1/2-year-old male snow leopard. And then there is "Sarani." She is a year old, and together, they are the zoo's latest big attraction.

They met just a few weeks ago, behind the scenes, and they might not know it yet but their mission is simple: to breed.

"They're getting along fabulously," said Jay Petersen, curator of carnivores and primates. "The female and the male are very interested in each other. They explore the yard together, they move together."

And within a few years they should have a litter together.

These beautiful creatures are from the mountains of Central Asia where they survive in extremely high altitudes, up to 13,000 feet. We humans could barely breathe, but snow leopards are ready to hunt.

"They have adapted with a huge lung capacity, so they can take in a lot of air, and a large nasal cavity, so they can warm that very cold air that's coming into their bodies," said Petersen.

Their rear legs are longer than their front legs, and that makes it easier for them climbing up and down the mountains.

And their tails? They're amazing.

"It's a counter balance to jumping and negotiating the rocky terrain, and it's also like a travelling muff when they curl up and take a nap," Petersen said.

This winter will be a breeze for Sabu and Sarani. Sort of like Palm Beach, Chicago.

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