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Como Zoo hopes its 2 new snow leopards will have babies by next year

These cats are critical to the survival of snow leopards.

Two snow leopards who were born in Europe have come to live at the Como Zoo, with the hope they'll have babies by next year.

Moutig, a 3-year-old from France, made his public debut at the zoo in early March. His partner Alye, who was born in Germany in May 2014, will make her debut in the zoo's outdoor exhibit later this spring, a news release says.

“What’s going to be fun about this particular pair of cats is that they’re so young and playful,” Como Zoo senior keeper Jo Kelly said in the release. “Moutig especially is a very curious cat – visitors are going to love watching him leap.”

They're unique, too

What makes this pair of snow leopards even more special is their genes. Moutig and Alye's genetic makeup isn't really represented outside of Europe, the Como Zoo says. So bringing these animals to North America and breeding them is critical to the survival of the species.

That's because there aren't many snow leopards left – there are as few as 3,900 in the wild, and about 600 in zoos. Of the snow leopards in zoos, there are only about 150 in North American zoos.

"That low number means that ever year, there are fewer unrelated American snow leopards to safely breed, so these new cats at Como Zoo introduces two new genetic lines," Matt Reinartz of the Como Zoo told GoMN.

And because Moutig and Alye were such sought-after snow leopards, the Como Zoo had to go through a "rigorous" selection process to get these two endangered cats, with the zoo saying Minnesota's cold climate and the Como Zoo's decades-long history of raising and breeding snow leopards helped them get picked.

The Como Zoo says Moutig and Alye could have little snow leopards as soon as 2018.

More on snow leopards

Snow leopards are endangered, with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimating there are 4,080-6,590 left in the world (they're really hard to count because they're quite elusive, the Como Zoo says).

They are native to the cold mountains of central Asia, and have been seen at altitudes higher than 18,000 feet (Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet), the Como Zoo says.

Their bodies are built for the mountains – they can leap six times the length of their bodies, they use their long tails as protection from the cold by wrapping it around their bodies, and their large, fur-covered feet are like natural snowshoes, WWF and the Como Zoo note.

You can read more about snow leopards on the Snow Leopard Trust website here.

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