A zoo in Ordos city has invited visitors to come and see a snow leopard captured in the wild.
In response, officials from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration are reported to have said: “It is absolutely not permitted for wild snow leopards to be placed on display in zoos.”
The snow leopard, a rare and reclusive species listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, and as a Grade 1 nationally protected species in China, had been spotted on grasslands near Ordos on 5 September. Having strayed from its normal habitat and been considered a threat to local livestock, authorities captured the cat on 6 September and placed it in a local wild animal rescue centre. A Xinhua report at the time noted it was healthy and would soon be released back into the wild. However, on Tuesday, Ordos Wild Animal Zoo released a WeChat article, since deleted, reading “Good news! The snow leopard has successfully been relocated to a living pen and awaits your visit!”
A number of wildlife-focused WeChat accounts then highlighted the danger of allowing an animal to become desensitised to human interactions before releasing it back into the wild. An article on the WeChat account “Nature Temple” received over 10,000 reads.
The media attention apparently did not go unnoticed by authorities. On Tuesday, officials from both the provincial and national level Forestry and Grassland Administration visited Ordos to check the situation and reportedly made clear to the zoo and local officials that displaying wild animals is not permitted. Nature Temple commented: “some zoos continue to use animal rescue centres to acquire new animals, but this case demonstrates that the public increasingly view that behaviour as unacceptable.”
The snow leopard is expected to be returned to the wild soon.
Read about scientific research on snow leopards on our sister website The Third Pole.