Snow leopard cub debuts at Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago

MAYWOOD, Ill. (AP) — A three-month-old snow leopard cub on Wednesday made her debut at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago on an unusually cool day.

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Temperatures hovered in the mid-60s as Ahava (Ah-ha-vah), which means “love” in Hebrew, explored her outdoor habitat along the zoo’s Big Cats walkway. The cub has been kept behind the scenes as she bonded with her mother, Malaya.

Zoo officials say visitors to Brookfield will be allowed to see the cub for a few hours each day as she gets acclimated to her surroundings. As Ahava becomes more comfortable, she will be allowed to stay outside for longer periods.

Ahava will stay with Malaya for the next year and a half to two years before becoming independent, according to zoo officials. When appropriate, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan will work with participating member institutions to determine where Ahava will be placed. The group manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable.

Snow leopards are native to the mountain ranges of central and east Asia. Conservationists estimate there are from 3,500 to 7,000 of these elusive cats remaining in the wild. Threats to the species include habitat loss and illegal hunting for the fur trade, according to Brookfield Zoo officials.