Two ridiculously cute new cats just made their official debut at the Los Angeles Zoo. The brother-sister pair of snow leopards were born at the zoo four months ago and are finally ready to explore the great outdoors. In addition to being obviously squee-inducing, these kittens are special for the zoo because snow leopards are critically endangered in the wild.
“We’re so excited to welcome these cubs,” Stephanie Zielinski, an animal keeper at the zoo wrote in a statement. “There is less known about these beautiful cats than most of the other large cat species due to the extreme habitat [where] snow leopards have evolved to live in the wild.”
That habitat is typically the snowy, rocky mountaintops of Central Asia, where their thick fur, wide paws, and long tails designed to wrap fully around them to create a built-in blanket, all come in handy, as do the white, cream, and grey markings which allow them to blend in with their surroundings. Don’t worry about their ability to adapt to the L.A. climate, though; while they can handle temperatures down to 40 below freezing, they’ve also been shown to tolerate up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The proud parents of the yet-to-be-named cubs are three-year-old Georgina and five-year-old Fred, who were first paired together in 2015 as part of a program designed to breed snow leopards in captivity to preserve the species. In the wild, there are believed to only be 2,000 to 7,000 snow leopards left in the world, as their habitat is destroyed, food sources disappear, and poachers hunt them for their distinctive fur. That makes having this healthy pair at the zoo all the more important.